If India was a person, she'd be in severe danger from covid-19, she's 73 years old, she's got comorbidities. Some organs have failed, some organs never worked. Some parts of her body are at war with others. It's a mess. If she was an old woman sitting down to make a sweater, she'd be knitting holes. But of course, India is a country, not a person. So I won't take the analogy too far as we hit the seventy third anniversary of our independence.
It's worth looking back at this great nation of ours. How did we get here? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? What is this? We even we talk so much about our country for granted, the poverty and injustice, the normalized excesses of our politics, our very existence. Let's step back and take a deeper look.
Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of. Welcome to the scene of The Unseen. This episode is a bit like an achievement unlocked moment, because from the time I started the show, I have wanted to have Broderbund as a guest on the show. We could never quite make it work so far. But here we are talking about the wide ranging subject of India over the last seventy three years.
People refer to Pratap as BBM and I refer to myself as a Bibiane fanboy. I regard him as a finest essays in our country so far above the rest that there isn't even a shortlist. This leads to one awkward moment for me. Every month during the online writing course that I teach the art of clear writing. I teach the values of clarity and simplicity when writing for a mainstream newspaper. I tell my students, make it easy for the reader to process what you are writing.
Avoid long sentences, avoid words that are too big and so on. Then at some point in the month long course they ask me, So who are the writers you like in the Indian media? And the first name I take, of course, is that of brought up. And then they all jump on me. He uses long sentences, he uses big words, he even uses adverbs. Look, screenshot. At that point, I have to take a step back and go into explanations like, yes, but he's allowed to because he backs so much into so little.
And indeed, one of the reasons is so rewarding to read Pathak is that he can go so much deeper in an 800 word column than any other writer I can think of. This demands that readers have a deeper engagement with the text. So when you sit down to read, but you're not skimming, you're diving in. And that to me justifies the fact that the prose has a rhythm that I would otherwise say is not quite suited for mainstream newspapers anyway.
Matters of style aside, but offers a most insightful commentator on India that I have ever read. He has an acute sense of the political and cultural DNA of this country, and I have never read anything by him that does not increase my understanding of India. That makes him the perfect guest, therefore, for this Independence Day special episode. Before we get to our conversation, let's take a quick commercial break.
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You know, I'll make a confession here that when I began this podcast three years ago, I made a quick list of names of people I would want on the show. And you were number one. So finally, achievement or luck for me?
Thank you. Encouragement means a lot. Yeah. So let's kind of start by sort of talking about your early life. Like what I'd be really keen on, like the matter, of course, we've never made. But the matter that I know is, of course a public intellectual effort. All of your columns and the ambition one would get from that is that the moment you popped out in the world, you were reading political philosophy and, you know, speaking and doing complex sentences.
But tell me a little bit about what you sort of were as a kid, what your influences were and how your sort of intellectual joining immediately, sort of political scientist. Oh, gosh.
You know, that old joke that the deepest influences are so deep that you don't even realize that influences probably get the narrative wrong. I mean, it is true that as a child, I think my reputation amongst teachers was that one thing I was absolutely reluctant to do was any physical activity so I could just sit in one place. And because of the I think one way of organizing my thoughts to this question you asked is maybe just pick out three or four key moments.
I mean, I am what is in our circles called an academic bracket, which is grew up in an academic family. So in that sense, I think all the Incenses arguments about politics, political theory, political philosophy were sort of in our years from birth. It was an interesting household. And in some senses, I think even in my political views, I think it's had quite a considerable influence, not in terms of specific beliefs, but as I've grown older, come to realize that I think politics is almost as much about the kind of temperament that you cultivate and the kinds of virtues you value.
I think most people in particularly my grandfather, who was actually in politics, active politics in this town for many years, but my father also and my mother had in full measure there was a interesting and easy kind of religiosity in the household. I mean, this joke in the household is there isn't a place of worship we don't like and we don't visit. But it combined that easy religiosity, but also a deep kind of intellectualism about it. And in some senses, I think the question, the metaphysical question in some sense is right, what is the ground of being what is the nature of our consciousness that kind of hovered in the air in the household a lot, almost naturally.
I mean, apart from professional colleagues, apart from political scientists, those that sort of whole other kind of conversational idiom. And the two things that I do think were important hindsight about that experience, I think one was a very different view of what a religious life actually means and what it looks like.
I think my grandfather's two greatest attributes, one that are religious life has to be utterly free from vanity of any kind. And secondly, that the meaning of life in some senses has to come from a purpose that is not instrumental.
And one of the interesting things I found about genuinely religious people, I think in ways that you come across, that there is a kind of I actually think a genuinely religious people that is a healthy skepticism about the world, which is to say that the lack of vanity and detachment comes from the sense of, you might say, the transience of that world, and that can be actually channelized into a kind of healthy distance and skepticism as well. I mean, you might say this is a kind of two sides of the same same coin.
So I think that sensibility and I don't want to put it in sort of philosophical propositions, but I think that sensibility has remained, I think, quite powerful for me and defines the way in which I think I relate to religion. And I think it's a sensibility that's increasingly vanishing within 20. Even the kind of religious features that we encounter were far more ecumenical. I think almost all of them subscribe to that line from Mother Earth Week to of the Shadow, you know, so that sensibility, I think, has remained important.
But it also, I think, convinced me that I think it's more temperament, not so much a kind of public philosophy you want to sort of articulated in proposition it actually uses. In fact, it becomes its very opposite. Right, because the idea is to give everybody the space to find the love that will. A try and understand it, a known instrumental dance that was, I think, the first sort of formative moment, the lasting influence.
The second is an interesting political memory. And I know as we grow older, we sometimes exaggerate what we remember.
But this, I think I can say with honesty, that the emergency was a defining moment for us when I was about eight years old. The astonishing thing is we were living at Shimla at the time. And I think the three things that were very much in the ad, which we even grasped as children very profoundly. One was the potential violation of civil liberties, the threats that my father's colleagues were being investigated, the potential threat of being arrested.
There were sort of clandestine information papers being passed because there was a complete blackout, the news media. So this was like a cloak and dagger game. You know, these papers were really supposed to scare them off, otherwise be incriminating. It, I think, was one moment which created a kind of instinctive anti authoritarianism, maybe had the Senate seat. In any case, an instinctive antiauthoritarian ism probably is a little bit of a distrust of the Congress party organisation, if not so much its stated ideology.
And I think the thing which had appeared. In a small way, in a state like the and one doesn't associate these things with much, it was for the first time there was a kind of nativist movement in the much, pretty much of university that my father was teaching was a young university and create an extraordinary wealth of talent, actually, now that we look back.
But, you know, there was a movement saying, look how much it should be for emergencies. And that in part prompted a move out of you, in a sense, back to Rajastan. So I think that sort of some degree is that instinctive, I think came from the emergency. The third moment, if I would say I think, was the departure to Oxford as I finish my schooling, another son and Jeb Bush.
And it was a nice kind of idyllic existence, actually. I mean, I think it was a kind of manageable the kind of freedom you can have when you can navigate the whole town on a bicycle and not worry about safety or anything else is is not a freedom. We've experienced since I left for Oxford right after high school.
And I know people can have different experiences in Oxford, but for political philosophy, Oxford between nineteen eighty five and nineteen eighty eight was just an astonishing place. I mean, I was lucky to have two extraordinary tutors. No one was being a kind of abiding friend almost throughout life. Alan Ryan. Neither was John. Great. But apart from that, I mean, you know, Oxford had Jellico erm Derek Parfit, Amartya Sen working, Joseph Rass and and this is like one of those sort of one in a century moments for political theory.
And it just reinforced in me, I think the love of the subject that probably picked up as a child. My decision to go to graduate school was a very simple one because what kinds of books do you want to read? Frankly, there was no other kind of forethought to it.
But more substantively, I think what Oxford did, which was I think interesting, was, you know, I think when I went to Oxford, the little of the intellectual milieu that I was familiar with was by and large opposed to liberalism. I wouldn't say it's anti liberal, but I think in Indian political discourse, in political thought, there has always been this construction of liberalism as somehow being associated with the selfish, possessive individualism, liberalism, having no sense of community.
You know, there's a standard range of criticisms like liberalism really having no moral foundations other than self-interest.
And what I think Oxford did for me was revive a kind of interest in the deep moral foundations of liberalism, which I think continued.
I went to do my doctorate work at Princeton. Alan Ryan was a extraordinary teacher. I mean, I think one of the amazing things he did was as a teacher was he would always say that when reading is an ethical act in some ways, which is that it involves a sense of fairness to other people's arguments and the ability to get in inside other people's arguments, particularly people whose views you disagree with.
So if you're giving a lecture on Marx or if you're giving a lecture on Hegel, it should appear as if you were in a sense incarnating that rather. And that's a minimal kind of fairness. And I think that's very much part of a liberal sensibility in some ways. What kind of temperament that, you know, I then went to Princeton and through a series of accidents, ended up doing a PhD on Adam Smith.
That's kind of quadrani from this kind of interesting liberalism and religion produced with Adam Smith in the Scottish Enlightenment and particularly the United States modern philosophy.
And two things that struck me about Adam Smith at the time, which kind of drew me to him, was one, you know, now, of course, there's been a revival of Adam Smith and people take this moral philosophy very seriously.
But in the eighties, frankly, beyond reading excerpts from The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith was not part of, as it were, the larger literature and.
I was very struck by two things in Adam Smith's sensitivity. One, again, the same anti authoritarianism. I think people often forget that the Wealth of Nations is really also as much about protecting the state from concentrations of power as anything else.
And the second was, I think, his attitude to history, which has been nicely described as skeptical of big ism, which is the belief in the possibility of progress, but the deep sense that a lot of progress is a series of accidents, conjuncture. Sometimes bad people do good things, sometimes good people do bad things. And I think the Scottish Enlightenment, both humans are absolutely wonderful at this.
Smithton, for example, is actually due to capitalism. He doesn't have a single good modern word to say about owners of capitalism.
But nevertheless, he says the the good that comes from deploying it all, for example, is classic discussion of slavery in American democracy, that his prediction that a republic would be the last to abolish slavery.
So there was a kind of paradoxical historical sensibility which seemed to me to be far more defensible, I think, than a lot of I think approaches to history to try and find a mustafi. I mean, I like that intellectual effort because sometimes saying it's a complicated can also be an intellectual copout. Right? It is lots of things.
But that that kind of complexity, I think that Smith had I think was was hugely attractive in 1938. And instinct's again and I think it was at Princeton, although I did not end up working on this, but also the much deeper engagement with modernism. And I think this theory of justice was sort of our Bible. And I went through a complicated relationship with that book.
I mean, I think at the time, partly because it was so dominant, there was a kind of natural young person's instinct rebelled against Germany of roles.
We would always joke to write essays called Not another paper or not. But as I've grown older, I do think it's one of the most remarkable books ever written. I think there's a very austere dignity to that work, and it's almost deceptive. And almost nobody reads three of the theory of justice, which is an astonishing piece of modern psychology.
And you don't have to agree with the specific principles, all the boxes. But I think as an answer to the fundamental question of political existence, which is how can you reconcile social cooperation with a recognition of our basic freedom and equality? I think it's probably the most interesting framework with which to think.
The final thing I just say said this journey. And as the moment I think was another teacher I encountered at Princeton, George Kateb, I mean, Alan also had moved to Princeton. So there was kind of a continuity from Oxford. And George Kata'ib was a remarkable figure in American political theory, is not much known outside academic circles, but really one of the truly great teachers in American academia, very different from Adams in the sense that much more combativeness started with very strong, subtle use.
But the one thing which was his life's work, I think, and putting it in my words, I think he put a lot more eloquently, was I think hanging out with him nourished my instinctive rebelliousness against any kind of collective pronouns or forms of collective identity, which you the very act of naming you in a particular collective identity actually can be antithetical to your freedom because it benchmark's you, right?
If somebody says, are you a Hindu, are you Jewish, are you Muslim, what does that actually mean? Who benchmark's the content of what it means to be that? Right. He also used to make, I think, the important point, which is in some ways obvious but not well recognized, is that when we get absorbed in a collective identity like the form of living, that being the agent also becomes a little bit like this. There's a thrill to it.
You know, Sachin Tendulkar achievement becomes my achievement. And frankly, that is not Fenmore unmatched. And that right.
On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that it is his achievement. Right. And that by courteousness also produces the kind of moral blindness.
And that's the moral blindness that in a sense, license's all crying in the name of collectivities in a way that you would not sanction if they were done in the name of an individual right and particularly a king.
I mean, while I understand the historical importance of nationalism, something we can talk about, but the fact that nationalism exhibits both of these traits, I think it can be antithetical to freedom in the sense that Benchmark's people and it unleashes a kind of violent like hideousness, which turns ordinary people into I think that's a less empathetic towards otherness.
So I think that's probably I think the broad intellectual during the last and final twist, I mean, talking about consensuses never to the interesting but is we then I mean, I, I was in the United States for almost 17 years after Princeton went to taught at Harvard and walked into that job again, almost accidentally, with the encouragement of some professors, the idea was always to come back to India and for two reasons.
I mean, one, I had this, that the stakes are actually.
I mean, at that time, America was characterized by a deep, overlapping consensus.
I mean, you know, it's hard to imagine that world now in this polarized and, you know, if you're interested in the future of political theory, India was the place in some ways, right? I mean, it was going to have exactly the role that 19th century Europe had, the society of the future, all the big debates adopted.
So we came back and I think coming back, of course, also led me back to a much deeper interest in Indian politics and in traditions, which is something I never formally studied. I was in the United States. I mean, I, I always thought my connection to India was way too personal for me. I didn't want to write on it as a kind of academic subject for the American Association and within those genres and the re-engagement with Indian political thought, I think Ambedkar particularly was a huge revelation.
I had studied only cursorily before then, and I think we all still study on Dickason one because of his absolutely, um, blinkered view of Indian society in almost every aspect. I mean, this is really a kind of moral clarity of take no prisoners, which is astonishing. But I think second, I think he did put his finger on, I think, the original sin of Indian civilisation, which is caste. And you don't have to agree with them.
But I think the fact that. That legacy in history forms not just social conflicts, but also frontier insecurities about religion and metaphysics. You don't have to agree with this claim that Indian metaphysics been taught rises and falls with cost, and it should be because there's nothing else.
But it's hard to deny the fact that we are so anxious about that status has something to do with, in some sense, the cost.
And the second thing about America is that the he's the first and only thoroughgoing modern constitutionalist in the Indian tradition who just says, look, we have to act as if we are feeding people. You don't have to give arguments for this. In fact, anybody who demands arguments for this is probably already right. Who's talking the language of modern constitutionalism? He has none of Nehru sentimentalism. He, I think, very clearly sees the limitations of this extraordinary nationalist project, which at one level he was trying to create the space for the Indian way of thinking.
But I think America's question is very simple. I mean, what you need is liberty, equality and fraternity and everything else follows from that.
But if you start at the identity end of the storm, what is an Indian way of thinking? Then you go down the path of destruction. So I guess it's all of these elements and I'm not sure these different elements can be easily reconciled. But that's how it is. I see kind of my journey not well exemplified. I won't hold any of these people responsible for my failings. But those are the deep moments of engagement, I think, between.
Right. And just a bit of relief that they wouldn't be held responsible by you. You know, there's a lot to unpack here. And I just so I kind of go through the different strands one by one one. I was struck by what you said about, you know, the role that religion played in your life in the sense that we often think of, you know, religion and rationality as two things which are completely apart from each other. And as you pointed out, and you know, that a true religious person may have that sort of sense of distance from the material world, that he can then be more dispassionate about it and therefore more skeptical, which was fascinating for me.
So while I don't really want to get too much into the personal, but I'm kind of fascinated by the role of sort of religiosity in sort of shaping the way you think. Are you a religious person?
I mean, the short answer is yes and no hesitation saying that the only only reason I hesitate for a second is that the has this wonderful line that he once said that I was going to write, that I'm writing to the glory of God. But a statement like that can be misunderstood. And what he meant by that was not that there's a kind of vanity in saying, you know, I'm religious or that you want to look good in the eyes of people who are not.
I think it was the profound sense that he he had that the conditions of making religion intelligible in an objective way no longer exist.
So when somebody says, are you religious or are you X or Y, one is actually not sure what set of expectations is being actually backed into that claim.
So that's that's the and one of the problems in a sense, I think challenge is religion in some ways.
And in that sense, I think it is in tension with the world is that those conditions of intelligibility exist even less and less. I mean, you are an imaginative kind of interlocutor. You can imagine twenty five other contexts in which saying I'm religious might evoke associations that you yourself do not have about that.
And I think that also, in a sense, exemplify that point about sort of the act of naming public identities in this way that identities are best if they are kind of background facts about you, which is the ground on which you stand and that gives you freedom to act.
But they become perversions if they become a kind of exhibitionist goal in some ways that you have turned off.
I was also kind of struck by the serendipitous nature of this conversation itself, because in, you know, two of my recent episodes, I have sort of examined Auto's that you just spoke about. I had an episode with Russ Roberts where we spoke a lot about Adam Smith, particularly the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and in my last episode with the Connecticut Desert. And we also discussed roles a little bit. And I gave my contentious gun on why libertarianism can be derived from roles.
But that's sort of a separate matter. I was also very struck by your cutting down on how reading can be an ethical act. And it also strikes me that, you know, when you joined the academy, for example, the one thing that you, of course, doing is that you are, you know, being introduced to frames of looking at the world, but at the same time. As you kind of figure that out and I think what happens when you discover things to look at the world is that every frame that sort of, you know, and different frames will seem complete in and of themselves.
And therefore, they're very seductive because a very complicated world and the complicated processes of history can be, you know, suddenly seem intelligible. And you like, OK, you know, this experience the world so beautifully. This is who I am. And then you define yourself and all of that. And it seems to me that you haven't done that. You haven't not just chosen sort of an ideological collective like that, but you've kind of remained open in the sense that it is therefore sort of hard to pin you down and see that or, you know, maybe it is this or that or or whatever.
You are examining everything, particularly one. How difficult is that become within the world of academia? Because surely there are issues that you see around you to conform to a particular piece of thinking. That's part one. And part two then is that when you come back to India? I have noticed that a lot of the themes that you could carry with you to look at the world, for example, the frame of left and right in politics don't really apply to India.
And you have to then sort of discard bits of that and start, you know, constructing your own frames, as it were, or figuring all that stuff out for yourself. So what was that process like?
But that's a fascinating question. It says a lot about the state of academia. So I think two things. One, as I said, I think it's an intellectual enterprise. I think the search for parsimony and a master key is very broad. In fact, you need space for people doing that. Right. And for that kind of grand theorizing. In some ways, I think it really moves the horizons of our thinking. But I think it's important to remember the is not the world in some ways.
I mean, I think that's something. And one of the most important thing, I think, again, coming back to Adam Smith's right is that it's interesting, both in this modern theory, but also in his theory of science. The one thing that he recognized was the power of the imagination, a lot more. In fact, he says the pieces of reason in some sense of fashion are more driven by imagination. And imagination does have a way of kind of putting together contradictory things in a way in which reason does not.
So in that sense, I think just being alive to the complexity of reality, that theory is at most events, like every lens.
The critical thing is under what conditions and realities? One of the things where under what conditions pretty much changes instantly.
I mean, a philosopher once made this very nice distinction that when we are academics, we have to think in terms of other things being equal. Right. That's how economists think of it, like all other things being equal when we are doing moment of pure normative theory and philosophy.
That's why other things being equal right here, the arguments when you deal with reality, it's all things considered in some ways. So I think that's I think one one I think important element. I've always been struck by a line of Neil's boards, which was that the opposite of truth is also the opposite of deep truth is another deep truth that there is something too. You know, I think that that's it. But the second thing I think which is important, and this is something I do think academics sometimes underestimate, is that the world of politics is different from the world of academia.
And I think it'd be disastrous for the world if the world of politics was simply the world of a particular set of ideas writ large, I think. Politics begins, I think, in the fact of disagreement, frankly, if didn't disagree, we don't actually need politics in a in a deep sense of the term. Right. The disagreement can have many sources.
I mean, it can be in ideas, it can be reasoning. It can be come from your positions. It can come from who you are. Right. And the task of politics, in a sense, is to recognize this plurality.
I mean, and which is why when academics think that the purpose of politics is to, in a sense, enact the particular idea, but that it's a Marxist on the one hand or libertarian, it's that moment where you cease to be political in some senses. I mean, it's as oxymoronic as you might say, Christian politics might be.
I mean, you know the answer to the question before it's being asked.
Politics also operates in the realm of legitimacy rather than the realm of truth. Right. Which is you and I might disagree. I might be more centrist. You might be more libertarian. At the end of the day, the political job is can we find a way of actually living together in a way in which both of us feel the space, but also in some ways, like our core sense of being is recognized right now.
That's a very different problem from the intellectual problem of what is the truth. I mean, you might well be right in the way you listen. I might well be right, but that is actually not the political problem. And dismissing disagreement simply as a function of lesser reasoning. Right. And that's that's very tempting for academics to do. Well, the answer to every disagreement is if you only taught enough, you would come to my point of view that actually, I think, strikes me as just a misleading description of the human condition.
Now, you mentioned kind of conformity and the pressure to conform. I think in academia, I'd say two things. Yes, there are. I mean, I think academics can also function like collective tribes'. Often the pressure to conform is not what people think it is, which is particularly in the social sciences humanities.
It's actually not political. It's actually methodological rules. I mean, various departments like to reproduce their own sort of method of inquiry in some ways. Right. And I think a lot of the kind of most pedantic and frustrating disputes in academia are actually over that institutional control.
Right. But it's coming to more substantive things. I think I think you obviously have to have some set of values. And the joke about liberals that they can't fix their own side in argument, I think is is a telling joke in some ways.
I think that certainly applies when it comes to world views. And you have to be open to receptivity, but you have to have some baseline moral values. Right. Some things that allow you to draw that line.
Now, when people speak of conformity in academia, I think, you know, you can at one level take the most egregious examples of politics and and certainly there's a lot more of that these days.
But I think it is one has to say, I think a fact and probably a progressive factor or productive fact that almost all modern theories have to operate within a broad plateau of freedom and egalitarianism, at least moral egalitarianism.
So often when people complain that this conformity and I think what they want to say is that there are certain kinds of hierarchical conceptions of our relation to each other that are no longer considered socially acceptable. Right. So, for example, I mean, you obviously can't defend racism in cost of the way you do it. Often there's a passive aggressive way of articulating them in a kind of different language. Right. In which you can play a victim.
So to the extent that there are certain core model propositions of that kind and those have to be exhibited in the way in which you treat people, those will be the basis for what I would say, a certain kind of conformity, because those are the basic elements of that social contract.
Right. That's what gives predictability. So, for example, freedom of expression. Right. Ideally should just be that that it's a norm that all of us respect and none of us sort of violate. Now, often what happens with freedom of expression is all sides recognize it. Right, in the sense that it's a convenient to when you want to use it for your side, it's inconvenient when you want to extend the same courtesy Thompson's to other people. So that kind of, I think, building off a little bit of a consensus of what are these moral baseline, but I think is important.
I just give you one example, I think, which is illustrative of this. So I use this example often because it's so vivid in this context. It might make sense. So, you know, I often used to get this criticism and I'm sure you've heard it many times, that liberalism and libertarianism and all these nice things that you guys talk about are basically foreign imports. Like these are ideologies born in the West. It might not have applicability in India.
And I remember once having this conversation with a group of members of parliament from all across the political spectrum and some very strident ones who the context was private to them having a no holds barred discussion.
Each had their own victim narratives. And in the course of that conversation, they just happened to ask this question, I said. Can all of you recount an instance? Well, you presented something because it had been imposed on you without your consent. It could be in a familial context. Your parents asked you to do things that you did not agree to doing. It could be in a political context. You were asked to conform to a law that you did not agree with.
And how did you react to that? And most of it? Well, well, sometimes you have to go along. But that sense of resentment is quite powerful often. In fact, some of them said things just because we are being forced to do it, even if you agree with that.
And it struck me then that actually all that liberalism requires extending of that courtesy to everybody else, take that very elemental experience that all of us have of feeling resentful, fear being if you could just extend that cursing that maybe others are feeling that way as well as if that's all it takes to get liberalism off the ground. You're actually all liberals when it comes to yourself, right? Like you all want to claim those freedoms. Just extend that courtesy, extend extended not just to other groups, but importantly, groups need to extend that courtesy to individuals within that.
Right. So groups will often say minorities will often say majorities will often say, oh, please don't impose a particular set of nonsense what extend that same courtesy to individuals within that group. Right.
So in that sense, I think you have to kind of link it back to a certain kind of moral psychology. And that was I think, again, one of the interesting things about Adam Smith that, you know, at the heart of liberalism was a certain kind of moral psychology. Right. If you've ever experienced this element of resentment and you can extend the courtesy of understanding that others might be feeling the same, you're on your way to being liberal.
And it's nonsense to say that the West always had it or we don't have it. We just need to be a little bit more self conscious about it.
That's fascinating. And I have a big question which I'd save for later in the broadcast, but I'll bring it up now. But before that, a quick observation that, you know, it often strikes me that all ideological differences really come down to differences about means, you know, the ends we can agree on. We all agree that, you know, nobody should be poor, that, you know, we should find ways of doing something about the genetic lottery and sort of equal opportunities for all and blah, blah, blah.
We all kind of agree on that. The disagreements are about the means. And what I would say, you know, everything that you just said, that you use the word liberal, one could just as well in modern times because liberal means so many things to so many people use the word libertarian, because this is also sort of a spiel that I give my friends of all ideological persuasions that no matter what ideology you profess to believe in your personal life, you're a libertarian.
If you go out for a meal with a friend, you won't force her to, you know, eat what you're eating. You won't force her to pay and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah. But then, you know what is sort of natural to us in the personal domain, that caution is bad and consent is important. We suddenly forget about it when we abstract it out to a bigger domain. But this observation itself might be completely moot if my next question has any sort of sense to it, which is that what I have sort of been thinking about over the last few years, watching what's happening in the world around us, both in the U.S. and in India, is that I've been wondering how much ideology is about ideas and how much it is about tribalism.
For example, you mentioned that politics begins with disagreements. Now, many of those disagreements might, on the surface of it, be about ideas. But to what extent are those of ideas, you know, not causes, but politics, to sort of use a phrase that you've used in one of your pieces, in another different context, which is different from the for example, I look at the US and I see what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party with people who would call themselves conservative five years ago or, you know, has become anything.
But they have completely been transformed by circumstance. Similarly, in India, you know, one of our mutual friends. So Yochai once said something very interesting to me. After democratisation, we were both kind of cribbing about how it, you know, the damage that it caused. And I hope you won't mind me quoting this private conversation, but he basically said the American communists said they looked at him as a classical liberal. And what he meant by that was that so many people who call themselves classical liberal and said, oh, we supported Modi in 2014 for, you know, more free markets and all of that, but completely forgetting the principles that they once professed allegiance to and completely forgetting all of those principles now that they had chosen to try even what seems to happen have.
Happen with many people like that here, what seems to have happened with Republicans in the US and really what seems to be happening with people across all stripes is that I am more and more coming to the conclusion that ideology is kind of contingent, which is why, you know, within academia, you'll have issues of, you know, becoming someone with a much more leftward tilt and so on and so forth. And actually, deep down, it's something else you're choosing a type to belong to.
You're adopting that ideology, but you don't really give a damn about the principles. Like, again, you know, you said just now that you you spoke about how liberals treat freedom of speech as something contingent again. But, you know, they'll invoke it when it's, you know, for example, that there are liberals in India who who, you know, been the right wing uses certain laws against sedition or twenty five or whatever. They'll say all horrible laws, but they have no issues using to fight with themselves when they want to, you know, for example, all the like it used to be.
And that was there on Twitter and social media again. And of course for me was sort of prosecuted recently for laws which should not exist. Right. And which liberals agree should not exist. So my be sort of concerned there is and I'm sure you've thought about it, is that to what extent is ideology, therefore contingent on all of this is just a sham? And if that is the case, if at the heart of this is a kind of tribalism which we choose to dress up in different ways, then, you know, what is the point of this whole political project?
Well, the really big question is, are we entering into it, I think, or three different angles.
So one is I think we have to be clear about the sense in which ideology is right. I mean, so this there's a couple of technical meanings of the term ideology, but it just doesn't refer to just ideas people have. I mean, I do think there is, for example, in some analytical power to a Marxist conception of ideology. But in a sense, what ideology does is it defines the horizons within which we think. So in a capitalist order, you cannot think outside of the horizons of competition and private property.
And in that sense, I think there's a certain kind of power to that system that all different is a part that's a core institution of the society that in some senses permeates everything right or wrong is a different matter.
But to that extent, I think many would argue ideology still matters. Ideology often not as precisely when it's not most clearly articulated that that is actually power.
But I think coming more directly to your question, I do think there is something about the social science vocabulary that has, I think, narrowed our horizons of politics, I think immensely.
And again, that's something that was quite remarkable about Smith. And, you know, if you read David Hume's history of England, for example, tonight, we always used to set this exam question for students that the key to political thinkers is not his arguments or arguments. The key to political thinking is trying to figure out what do they fear most and that Democratic politics operates at a deeply psychological level. Right. Those who fear anarchy. Right. And that's a fear about the one.
That's not a fear about abstract ideas. Yes. In principle, we all want to be libertarian or do we all want to be actually Tanque, I wouldn't mind an anarchist where all the authority was completely spontaneously generated. Right.
Yet temperamentally you fear that one either because you think it's not possible or because you think in some senses it'll put you in jeopardy in ways you can't imagine, like those who fear.
I mean, classically, right. The fear of equality has come from two sources.
It has either come from a fear of existing groups losing privilege. Right. That's been or was almost always the classical thing. Just don't ask these questions where we got our wealth from. Right.
Or secondly, I think particularly in the 19th century, the fear of equality was the fear of conformity. I mean, that's the fear that runs through the Torquil and so forth that actually goes back to Plato in some ways.
That somehow what particular interpretations of equality will do is license the kind of conformity it to disable or disempower the individual right, because equality will unleash the thought that one opinion is as good as any other.
And it's one opinion is as good as any other. The paradoxical psychological point it unleashes is that I then take my cues from people who have the more numbers. Right. So a lot of actually politics is actually trying to figure out what those fears are in a colonial context. I think that was poignant description, most people did not agree with Gandhi's ideas and I don't think was ever a congressman was a Gandhian in any deep sense.
What he did to right was in a sense, exposing that fear we had and finding a vocabulary in which to express it and confront it.
I think you can see this on debates or secularism and religion. I mean, I think a lot of our fears about religion in public sphere are, frankly, psychological. I mean, it's you know, you just associate religion with the fact that if you actually raise the stakes of politics, it's true that you might make better people.
But it's also true that you could end up licensing worse evil.
So I actually do think and a lot of successful politicians, frankly, I think they're big trip is kind of instinctively grasping or sometimes creating these fears in some ways. What do I need to be afraid of? And if I can give an answer to that fear. Right.
So that's I think one thing you can even see in debates in India. Right. I mean, I think I'm sure one of the questions that you have talked about deeply, you know, when we ask this question, why is the state more liberal? Why do I guess they could hide behind it often is not the cogency argument. Behind it often is the social experience of distrust, like the imagine nineteen forty seven. Right. I mean, India has experience to sort of say to the world that on world markets, the only forms of capital that you have actually experienced are usually forms of capital flight that the money, the local moneylender that exploits you.
What kind of imagination does that create about markets and you're overcoming? And that's what experience does matter. I mean, I don't want to sort of fetishize experience and often it's very irritating when somebody says, look, my experience against your argument, I mean, you know, well, sometimes you can misread your own experience.
Nevertheless, I think experience is important because it does point us in the right direction, which is and I think those conversations are harder to have. Frankly, the argumentative conversations that are easier to have are the three best arguments for the difference than brother had. The two best arguments for why the price mechanism is a wonderful information aggregating mechanism. It's harder to convince people who actually know that work, right. What does that mean? I mean, who might benefit from this?
And I think that I think is probably to be the core of politics, as Hoppes rightly said, is support of the state was also fair. And I were born fluid's I mean, he literally made fear itself that got right, but.
In all kinds of other ways, I think asking this question, what people fear most, I think is often it's an instructive question, even if it's not an easy question to answer, because often those fears are unrecognized even by the people who are actually exhibiting them in some ways.
The second thing I'd say about politics and again, going back to the countermoves, imagination in some ways. Right. You know, I frankly have to say the political science is completely mystified by a very basic question of political science.
What makes for credible leaders. Right.
I mean, the kinds of leaders people give their allegiance to, sometimes in the face of incontrovertible evidence that they are incompetent, you know, sort of boggles the mind sometimes. In a sense, the reverse is the case.
I mean, I think intellectuals are particularly, I think, prone to mis recognizing leaders, partly because we are good at reading arguments who are not good at reading human nature, are not good at reading the thoughtfulness of people in some ways.
Right. Which is why I think there is always this gap. I mean, I think it can be a good faith mistake. Sometimes you think a particular leader or a particular political party might actually carry out their agenda.
You're probably projecting, in some senses, your arguments onto them.
But in thinking about the elements of leadership. Right. I think that the point about why courteousness, I think actually becomes important. There are some leaders who produce the kind of effort, you know, which makes people feel elevated. I mean, there's almost this temptation to say, yes, I know he's committing a crime, but it's a crime in the cause of greatness. There are other leaders who are completely truthful and matter of fact. But that's precisely the point, which is they are boring.
I mean, by the way, the Scottish Enlightenment used to think boredom was as good an explanation of social change as any one that, you know, something too familiar breeds contempt. We need to be jostled out.
So, you know, politics. And then there's, of course, interests which should never be discounted.
Nobody wants to risk even under most circumstances. I think most of us are natural political optimists. We just show me an outcome which shows me which guarantees me that I will not be worse off here. And all right.
So politics, in a sense, works in the kind of deep crucible of the variety of human nature. And I think one of the mistakes of contemporary social science is to reduce that to. Expansive vocabulary of modern psychology, which the 18th century had, which some critics like the out of pride, vanity, jealousy, envy, resentment, vicarious elevation. These are not things that can simply captured by reduced either to interest or to ideas in some ways. I mean, sometimes you might change your mind just because your friend has done better.
On a particular idea, which you might imagine as a great line from a few years ago, as you know, you both feel entitled to quote I first of all these things, I think that modern psychology, I think, is much more central to politics than we think. And the tribalism that you're pointing out, I think comes from that. Right. I mean, what are these tribal instincts? I want my side to win or lose is more important because the thrill of winning or losing is more important than what we will achieve.
Often that tribalism is a form of making an argument that you could not be excited for.
But even more remote becomes so when you think of ethnic nationalism, for example, right. Majorities, minority complexes like a white majority thinking that it's going to lose, in a sense, its cultural supremacy, it's an unstated fear. You actually can't stated in modern terms and that since we are operating within a moral horizon of freedom and equality. And so you then kind of Vatican hachigian around about its fate and behind a lot of the tribalism is exactly that here.
So let's going back there again, though, before we get down to talking about India and you know how we fared in these seventy three years, which is, of course, the theme of this episode of small observation and a big observation. And I'll ask you to react to them. And this one observation is really just sort of elaborating on what you said about Horizons. There's this great book by Articling called The Three Languages of Politics, where he talks about how one of the reasons why we are so polarized is that we are always talking past each other, never to each other.
And we are talking past each other because, you know, progressives, conservatives and libertarians, as it were, will have a different set of horizons. And phosphine supposed to look at progressives, will care about quality conservatives or traditional libertarians about freedom. And and therefore, you can talk about exactly the same thing and argue for an hour. And you're not addressing each other at all. You're just talking into the air. So that's a book I'd recommend for my listeners.
My other sort of observation from all of what you were saying is that it has often seemed to me that the great battle in our civilization over the last 200, 300 years, since the Enlightenment is back to our culture, we are figuring out ways to mitigate our hardwiring, using nature to sort of mitigate nature. And sometimes, of course, a lot of the time culture, not the enforces nature, but sometimes it mitigates that. So, for example, we are hardwired to think the world in some ways because we are you know, our instincts were formed in times where we lived in small tribes and there was scarcity.
And whatever we think of the world, in some ways we think in tribal ways, we have a distrust of the other to play to the sort of the theme of feel which you were talking about. We admire strong leaders, which is why I think, you know, you were talking about the great mystery of political science, what makes for a credible leader. And I think one of the things we are hardwired to do is look forward to posturing, look for that kind of signaling, which is why, you know, a comparable body will do well.
And yet to a culture, we also, you know, we are that unique species which can actually fight its hard waiting in a sense through culture. And that's the whole battle. And it's and it seems to me that because intellectuals are in a sort of an ivory tower where they don't have to engage with the real world so much and politicians do, I think politicians get human nature much better, which is why politicians might often use ideology to cloak the things they do or what they want to happen.
But they get these primal fears. They know how to exploit them. It's instinctive. You know what you sort of spoke about, you know, experience. What's his argument? So they have that experience of human nature. Their incentives are tailored towards acknowledging human nature and, you know, catering for it. While intellectuals within the academy, for example, might not have the same kind of incentives, that incentives might be to signal something to their peers and not to actually make an impact in the real world.
And therefore, it strikes me that any intellectual who really cares about ideas almost therefore is forced to simultaneously become an activist because otherwise your ideas have no impact of there's no question at the end of this I'm just sort of thinking aloud or taking off from what you said. So how would you sort of kind of react to this?
You know, you say actually something quite important, and I want to just kind of build on that, particularly in the role of a politician. I mean, to me, politicians have two qualities, which often academics don't know, or at least at least academics who have been professionalized.
I think in the culture of professionalization that we now produce and somebody is right, I think a lot of the great 19th century thinkers did some ways. It's quite remarkable how much they did, I think.
The two qualities are one, as you said, which is the difference between being good at arguments versus actually being to observe human beings, read, as it were, the text of human life and actually living beings to decipher what the of humanity. Right. So I think that's one.
The second thing and I think this is the most important thing about politicians to me and why they are absolutely indispensable. Is that the politicians central job is a job of kind of social media.
The example that you just said, you may like liberty more, equality more, we may disagree about the means now somebody has to mediate between us by mediate, meaning create enough structures of cooperation that, you know, we don't kill each other, but hopefully, despite these differences, can do collectively things together. Right.
And often what people think of as divisive politicians, which is the swing to public opinion, politicians can do U-turn quite easily.
I think in terms of the education, that's exactly what you want them to do, I mean, I would be very afraid if a politician would just say this my way or the highway. I mean, I want the politician to have some core baseline moral values, and that's at a very high level of constitutional protection. OK, I don't I don't use violence. I don't use coercion.
But beyond that, precisely because of the viciousness of human nature, the viciousness of our histories and the differences in ideas, no society could function if you did not have somebody doing this job social.
Which is why I am actually. I mean, I'm very, very clear that if intellectuals enter politics, they should instead ask politicians. I think the idea that you're carrying some special authority into that realm because you're an intellectual, I think it's just preposterous. You're just another citizen and you need to take on the role of a politician not active of an intellectual.
The point you made about activism, I think, is an important one, I think, because that's often the form in which knowledge and intellectual engagement engages with the public sphere.
And then also, I think I would actually, I think, make a distinction, which is. It isn't intellectual's job, I think, to see how this how they see the world as it is without fear or favour. And in a sense, that's that's that's the biggest social. And but they should offer it in the spirit that once you have made an argument in public, it is just one argument amongst I mean, I I'm not a big fan of claiming authority in politics.
It was party that militates against the principle of equality, that militates against the idea of legitimacy. But yes, I mean, given that we have the luxury somebody has given the time and is paying us to read books, can we advance a few more arguments that other people might not have written?
But you should not do it with the expectation that he will be. In fact, I think the best you can offer is a well thought out publication. Have you thought of this the way that Hindi song goes? Got the McAbee. So, you know, that's I think that's the whole dog in the sense of an intellectual. I think when you become an activist, I think the two kinds, one where there are certain core values that I think intellectuals do want to defend.
So you might be an activist in the cause of free speech. There might be a Constitution academic, constitutional lawyer who's working on environmental regulation or something. That kind of activism, I think, is compatible with the academic vocation. I mean, it's just an extension of the good faith arguments you're making. What is actually not compatible with academic vocation is that you want your group or your side to win. And that group becomes, you know, it's the danger of any form of collective power.
Again, as Adam Smith reminded us, it takes a life of its own right. Just because I was with you in a trade union, just because I was with you on this particular cause, actually, that solidarity then begins to trump as it was the commitment to truth.
And to that extent, I think intellectuals do have to remain detached from collective organizational forms. I mean, I do think it's a it's running a risk once they see you become part of this organization or that organization or even the danger, for example, in destructive letters that academics like, you know, where you have to get everybody on a common platform. But getting everybody on their common platform is exactly the kind of exercise or a loss of your independence right now.
In some cases, those are necessary. Obviously, your colleagues are being arrested on trumped up charges. Maybe you do want to come together some kind of solidarity.
But I do think intellectuals need to be wary of all forms of power, including the power of intermediate collectivities of which they are.
In fact, when you said that. But when I sort of of of presenting about, you know, intellectuals of the one, the idea is to have an impact, of course, to be activists. I think I'm an activist in a really broad sense, which includes politics. And that sort of strikes me dead. Is that that process of trying to engage with the real world, even if you enter into that process with the intent of furthering your ideas and you're driven by your ideas, ultimately you have to cater to interests and leave ideas aside.
Which is why I often say that politics corrodes character. Once you're in politics, the sort of the compromises you make along the way changes who you are if you were that person to begin with, because we are all so, so revolutionary that who knows?
So so, yeah, that's that's sort of can I take issue with, you know, slightly I mean, I understand what you're saying and I think I think as an empirical description of politics. Right. But I think the very trait that you're describing also makes politics the toughest in the highest vocation. I mean, you know, the kind of politician who can both socially mediate, understand difference, understand the complexities of power, and yet retain something of a core compass.
That all of this mediation is in the service of. I mean, it's a very real politician. Right.
But but that's what actually makes politics the most difficult job, I think, of any precisely because you, in a sense, have to keep both sides of that right. That at one level you are not a creature of your own. Well, that's part of your job is to respond to other people. Right. And yet you have to have a certain kind of moral compass and go with it.
So we need to encourage politicians of those kinds of I I would hate to end this conversation to the cynicism about politics, because if you think it's indispensable, I think we do need to ask, you know, what kinds of character are better suited to the kinds of politics you want?
No, no. In fact, I love your description of politics. And it is fairly obvious that politicians are necessary. Like if they didn't exist, we would have to invent them. But as you know, it is contentious, whether intellectuals unnecessary. But but can you name any politicians like that who you think retain their integrity in the face of pressures which would force others to compromise?
Oh, it's you know, it's it's a tough one. And the reason I'm hesitating, because I think it does set in something something about the contemporary moment as well. Right. Which is and how we, in a sense, judge people. Right.
So one of the things that makes politics hard, I think, at this moment and has probably also we paved the way for a certain kind of populism, is fascism is this kind of interesting asymmetry between truth or credibility and lack of credibility?
And what I mean by that is McLeese this, which is in order for cynicism to win or in order for us to put down somebody, all you need to do is find one flaw, right. Obama got to be wrong. Like it's kind of a no brainer. Easy to say tonight. Or maybe Obama got it wrong. Right. So the standard by which you can.
Be sure that the politician was not true to his core principles. It's a very low bar. I mean, we're all fallible human beings.
And I think one of the peculiarities of this moment is that on the one hand, almost any politician would be destroyed by that skepticism very easily.
I mean, it just takes like one instance or you said this when you were 17 years old. There you go. Right. For your detractors, that's enough. Right. And I think it's that fact that has also paved the way for its complete opposite, where the only way in which you can hold on to a belief in a politician is complete blind faith. Right. It's the flip side of the same coin. Right.
Which is you just go in and say, look, I'm I'm going to be completely impervious to the facts. Yet as one of my colleagues in the Legends of God is the politics of Vishwas and I've given my faith to this person.
Come to me. This is Lou. That is the second plus two equals five. And I think both of these are two sides of the same coin.
So when we judge politicians, I think one of the things we have to, I think, be more conscious of that.
It is it is an art and it is something that requires the hard historical work of political judgment.
In a sense, a moral indictment of a politician is easy. It's the easier, the easiest to moralize about. But what is political judgment, which is how would you rate the capacity to make decisions in the face of all this complexity, not just complexity, but the fact that you actually don't know?
I mean, if Obama says I veered more leftward on health care, do I jeopardize the possibility of even passing a moderate package?
How could anybody know what that possibility looks like?
So I don't think we have the kind of appropriate kind of conversation about what the standards of judgment should, and which is why I was hesitating that I can think of any name I can.
I could put out a name and Jackie. To most people that, you know, head of the three thoughts, head of the three big mistakes so-and-so so made, and so in that sense, I think it's it's coming to a debates, for example, about NERU, for example, about Modie, for example, of a person who had deep flaws. And, um, I can recount lots and lots of political instances, sometimes even constitutional instances.
But it's the life just as a whole where the sense is that despite these mistakes, the movement is, in a sense towards a particular constitutional and democratic sensibility.
You know, I think he's probably done as good as any Democratic statesman has in some sense done you can think of around. At one level, it's very easy to indict Roosevelt as a guy who was founded on a very sordid compromise with the racism of Southern Democrats. He left that structural racism in the South intact. But what's the counterfactual? Right. If he had pushed too hard and that, would anything have been possible at all? So I think we need a much more nuanced historical conversation.
I mean, we probably need a few historians in the room to work it out to fair judgments of what might be interesting politicians to the for.
No, you know, I didn't mean my comment on sort of politicians not being true to an ideology as an indictment of any sort. I totally understand, you know, the imperatives of politics and the importance of politics and the role that politicians have played. And of course, the point you made about an era is well taken, that people contain multitudes. And in our modern times, sadly, we, you know, try to look for simplistic binaries to, you know, discuss everything with.
And those simply don't work. No. This is an Independence Day special episode. We're supposed to talk about India and we spend more than an hour entirely my fault because I love egressing.
I think it's a feature of what this is about. We are in a different form, albeit in a different form. So we'll take a quick commercial break.
And after we come back, we'll actually get down to the brass tacks of Irish independence on the scene in The Unseen.
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I'm chatting with Metathesis, our Independence Day special episode in the year 2020, in case you're listening to this in 2050, because I keep telling my listeners that I am trying to create episodes for the listeners of Twenty Years Later. So please don't be offended if you're listening to this in the present moment. You know, it's what has always kind of fascinated me. You know, we look back at history with the hindsight bias and we think that, OK, this is what India is.
It was inevitable that we would turn out like this, that we would be this kind of democracy and we'd have this kind of constitution. And I think that's something that we need to keep revisiting, because as you yourself pointed out, very often, you know, everything is so contingent. You have a chain of contingent events happening. And then suddenly, you know, here heavy are. And it all seems inevitable in hindsight. What I like to talk a bit about is, you know, the founding idea of India, like one of the sort of themes that I've explored over the last year and a half or so.
And I've asked this question to many guests, and I'd be interested in knowing what your answer would be, is that at some level, it seems to me that our Constitution is relatively liberal constitution. I say relatively, because obviously it's not nearly as liberal as I would like it to be in the classical sense, but it's a relatively liberal construct. Put together by an unelected liberal elite and imposed upon an illiberal country and that you one, there is a dilemma of whether such an imposition can itself be called in any way if it is an imposition.
And the other thought being, I mean, the couple of other parallel thoughts that don't come up is that in today's moment, has politics finally caught up with society in the sense that our politics is finally reflecting the preferences of a majority of the people or what the culture really is like? And yet, broadly, what what what are your sort of thoughts and therefore taking off from that? Is it, therefore, a liberal failure to not create a liberal culture?
Because what often, you know, one of my favorite quotes can make merchandise for the show and probably make a T-shirt with that quote is by Andrew Breitbart, where he says politics is downstream of culture. And I think this is something that without, you know, making a value judgment on whether the conservatives are right or the liberal elites are to forget the value judgement. But just, you know, should a society have a constitution that doesn't reflect what it is about?
And is that the case to begin with? Or what are your thoughts on all this?
Actually, the Andrew Babatz thought actually the onasis at this way before. But that's one thing to write about, actually. So I'm tempted to say, how many hours do we have to answer this question? But has one shot at it?
And and to answer that, if you'll allow me, let me broaden the frame a little bit, because I think one of the frustrating things about thinking about India is and this is something you shared with the United States, you know, we often think we are sui generis. I mean, you know, there's a particular distinctive Indian destiny that comes into force. But I think a little bit of comparative perspective is, I think, very important to answering your question.
Right. And the way I put it, this dispute, which is it depends how you tell the story of the moment.
So I'd like to tell the story to is one look.
We often forget that it is indeed very rare for constitutionalism to succeed 80 to 90 percent of constitutions that have been created since the 19th century actually collapse very frequently.
And we forget France went through one hundred and thirty forty odd years, so many different republics before it stabilized, maybe still not stabilized.
Right. So in that sense, I would not, I think, underestimate or be entirely cynical about that founded momentum. And I think in that comparative perspective, it actually looks doesn't look half bad as it is providing a modicum of hope to proceed forward. The second thing, and this is where I think the comparative perspective is, I think the most helpful is. Let us ask the question. What are the sources of in the police that jeopardize this constitutionalism, I'll come about its legitimacy later.
I mean, whether it was passed by nine unelected Assemblies of God and.
Let me play devil's advocate for a minute and say that actually I don't think India is unique. I don't think this narrative that the West was uniquely fitted to be liberal by the middle of the 20th century, India is a traditional conservative society and not liberal. I actually don't buy that narrative, to be very honest, and I don't buy it for two reasons. One, the biggest source of challenge for liberalism, to be honest globally, has not been the abstract debates or freedom of expression, liberties and so forth.
Those have incrementally advanced. I mean, it's not clear that late 19th century England was any more liberal than in some senses.
Vojnovic in history had to kind of sign the confession back for various things like.
The real challenge to liberalism has been from nationalism, and it's a very paradoxical challenge because at one level, the nation state is the political form in which modern constitutionalism flourishes.
But the modern nation state requires the theory of membership. Who belongs to this political community, which we are trying to be. And the disquieting answer is that absolutely everywhere in the world, there is almost no exception to this. Has the answer to that question. Not being accompanied by serious forms of exclusion and violence, like most European nation states that we think of it now have kind of relatively homogenized by the middle of the 19th century.
The French expelled the Huguenots and the Protestants. England kind of took care of the Catholics, of the Jews. I mean, Denison's accomplished that exclusionary process. The United States. Right. Of course, still hasn't accomplished that process.
If you look at the late 19th century. Right. One of the most sobering facts is that every single transition from empire, the state, right. When the Hapsburg Empire dissolves into nation states, when the Ottoman Empire dissolves, when the British Empire dissolves, not a single empire accomplishes that transition without incredible ethnic bloodshed and violence.
And to me, that is still an even if you look at contemporary debates, it has interesting paradoxes today. Right. I mean, even as a duty to judges, just as other, Mishra has passed a judgment saying women have to have equal rights and property. Right. To that extent, you might say the constitutional promise of equality is actually working out. And yet it's the same Supreme Court fight which will absolutely excuse anything in the name of nationalism, the vision of civil liberties, the right.
So to my mind, the single biggest source of liberalism that has haunted all liberal societies in India is actually not an exception, and that's an undertow even the West feels.
Now, Michael Mann has this very powerful article, The Dark Side of Democracy, which actually shows both 19th century how European nation states became more homogenized and in each case, accompanied by ethnic cleansing. In fact, genocide as a category at some level is a product of a democratic imagination because you you you target people simply for being who they are, not because ethnic demography matters to democracy. Now, India's illiberalism. I would actually also argue comes from not just nationalism, that's one dimension of it, but also this unresolved dilemma in representative democracy.
And the unresolved dilemma is this.
Which is how is power going to be shared? Once you institutionalize a democracy now, there's one simple answer you can give, which I'm sure you and I would probably prefer, which is, look, give everybody the equal vote, one person, one vote. Have a constitution that safeguards our basic rights and on checks and balances on with it. But this solution has proven to be live in societies that begin to see themselves as marked by.
Ethnic or religious majorities and minorities, because, again, going back to the field, right, the fear of the minorities, that the majority is ethnically, numerically preponderant. So it will exercise more power even if you give all these nice checks and balances.
And from eighteen fifty seven onwards, I think this is of as well, the big debate in India was how is representative government organized?
We do almost 70 years of negotiations around these questions and particularly around the Hindu Muslim people. Does the does the Dalitz representation story as well, which we talk about separately? But I think I think the Indian focus, I think is the most important of you. Try different solutions. You say, look, there are certain issues on which we will give minorities that we do. Well, if you do that, it sets up a majority backlash. And why should minorities have to in excess of their political power?
Right. You try and create representative government compatible with different system of laws. So you in fact, one of the things if you guys remain united, we probably would have been a more conservative country, because the irony is that the most people who are in favor of a united India, the condition of the United India is, Ambedkar pointed out, was this each community gets to govern its own laws. Right. So from the mental model reformed onwards, this constant question, right.
How will power be shared between Hindus and Muslims if you give the Muslims more protection that they feel the adequate. You have a reaction from the right that says, look, this is a betrayal of the principle of equality, right? If you don't give them adequate protection. Right. You obviously set up different kinds of fears.
And the fact of the matter is that we never resolved that question. And frankly, it could not have been resolved because I think that's true to that. American constitutionalism is which is that once you pose the question in terms of a permanent majority and minority defined in ethnic dance, there is no solution.
There's no equilibrium solution. The only way you can overcome this is by saying there are no permanent majorities and minorities. These are all contingent coalitions.
And right now it's the failure of that negotiation.
In part, that's actually the backdrop of partition in political terms. There is, of course, a much more visceral ethnic and religious dimension to it.
And often those ethnic and religious issues were tested and those become tests for the representative government. If if Congress wins in up willing to go or not.
Right. It's a majority testing its power in a minority setting it. So. In that sense, I think the failure of the Indian nationalist movement, while it did a remarkable job on almost every other aspect, I think India was brilliant, for example, in its thinking about the language question, we did not take a readymade European model saying that the language of the rule, the rule, the language of different provinces should be the same.
I think when it came to this particular cleavage, frankly, we could not buck the trend that every other society has done.
Right. And that's the trend that still casts a kind of shadow on contemporary politics.
So to that extent, I don't I mean, to me, India's constitution, the founding moment, one should not forget that it happened in the shadow of partition.
It happened in the shadow of a massive failure of that nationalist project, which wanted the strategic unity of the subcontinent, which taught that there was a traditional cultural narrative of syncretism.
Right. That could actually overcome these religious divisions. And they completely missed the fact that and this is something I think you also missed in contemporary discourse, that that content, that traditional discourse of syncretism, even if it was only imagined, could actually not work in the context of modern democratic reality. Like all the forms of toleration don't require great social mobility. We often don't compete for the same things. Societies are segmented. Iraki, right now you're all competing for the same power.
In that same power, democracy becomes important. So why the census became such a political issue, why it's very important for the BJP the number of Hindus versus the number of Muslims technically in a liberal society, why should this even matter? I mean, you don't care what your private religion is, what a private entity.
So to that extent, I would argue that, you know, I don't think the story is as much a simply a straightforward story of there was a deeply liberal conservative society.
I think the bulk of the problems actually came from poor areas that are internal to liberal democracy, except. Now, there is a second way in which I think your narrative has something to it, which is if you shift the frame from nationalism and the sharing of power between communities.
To what we might call social conservatives. Right was a conservative society in the conservative base, which is more and more individuals were governed by traditional norms of occupation, caste, identity, family and so forth.
Right now, one of the tasks of the modern state is the way Titterton is to be Simbad individuals from oppressive social structures to.
And again, going back to the question, what do you fear the Indian state was founded on the fear of social part because social power as a segment cost social power meant sort of patriarchal families like social power meant the power of ostracism, all those kinds of things.
Now, the Indian constitution in part promised the charter of reform that slowly and gradually the most obvious place to do it was implementing the abolition of untouchability.
But again, there are two different approaches to this. And I think, again, as liberals, I think we are talking about this right of. One is what you might call a rationalist approach. The rationalist approach says that every institution in society. Must look like or embody the basic. Liberal norms that we expect in our Constitution. So you might say Article 14, 19 and 21 should govern every institution, right? A temple is legitimate only if it doesn't discriminate or exclude a family is legitimate only if it treats people equally.
So that's structuralist way, in a sense, all civic associations, intermediary sources of power should also conform to this a second conception.
That's a little bit more totalistic that says that look at these associations and these intermediate sources would have complex histories that Express's of people's identities.
We may not like them, but they are part of, you might say, a more basic freedom of association. Right.
So if a church doesn't ordain women as something that's a business, if people want to go to temples that discriminate against women, that's their business. Right. Now, in a way, what the Indian constitution was was a kind of compromise between these two visions and actually you can see the tension even in, for example, the shabby maladjustment, you know, in the sense Elumelu trust judgment. Forget the religious argument for a minute. In a way, it seems to be saying, look, why should every intermediate institution, society correspond to what to expect the public institutions right now?
The argument there is that look. And this is your point about culture in some ways, that your public opportunities are deeply fractured by these private and civic associations and institutions, and it's obvious in the case of, for example, gender.
I mean, if you can't imagine in a patriarchal society, civic equality for women actually being realized other than an emotional sense, the question is, in a sense, how much do you want to use state power to create this reform or how much do you want to do the work of culture to do this?
And ideally, in a liberal society, you would get that balance just right, because having a pure rationalist view. Does raise questions about the concentration of power risks, different kinds of liberties. Right now, what has happened, I think interesting is that the reformist side, the Congress party, once it acquired stake power, in a sense, completely gave up that social work of reform, which is what it had been doing as a nationalist movement. Right.
It now has state power. It doesn't need to do this stuff. Interestingly, and what's interesting about that is this, in a sense, is that that's the space it began to occupy very, very powerfully. Right.
I mean, it's extraordinary how many so-called, quote unquote, progressive positions the BJP has managed to appropriate. Right?
Because what the Congress ended up doing slowly, obviously, nineteen, 1950, there was a partition.
It, in a sense, just became comfortable with the status quo. Right. I mean, why do we want to politicize any of this stuff? Right. So if if Muslim law doesn't get reformed, that's fine. Right.
You could have created a process of incremental reform and that reinforced the first dynamic about exclusion because the competition then became. Which communities does the state intervene in most? Right, that's part of the BJP narrative that the state deprive the Hindus of their associational rights, but it protected minority association. Right now, I don't think the motives are sinister. I think the motives were just more a combination of inertia and, you know, why spend political capital on this?
But it had that net net effect. So, you know, to that extent, I think, again, the Indian constitution is that Egypt is no different. I mean, let's not forget rights to give them in the 1970s.
That social work is it's going to be a long haul.
And to be honest, I am surprised you can look at it this way, which is that, yes, there is a lot of deep exclusionary practice in civil society, but at the normative level, it's very difficult for anybody to stand up and justify. Right. You know, in some ways. And that, you have to say, is an achievement, I think, of that constitutional imagination in some ways.
So I would submit that I in comparative perspective, I don't think India looks terribly different. I mean, this is part of the process of democratization and modernization. And I think we are at this particular juncture with these two questions have come to the fore.
Again, quite, quite possibly.
The BJP is in principle and by a lot of Hindus supported. They actually don't experience that authoritarianism in relation to where they stand. But obviously, minorities will feel it. And we've basically decided that in some senses you can create a national narrative without giving minorities a this. So in it so I think that's I think I just make one last comment I noticed on some people, which is a much more of an empirical comment. And in the spirit that you asked the question of thinking about counterfactuals, so I often transpose these two kind of actions to students.
One is a counterfactual, let's say, in 1940. 19, 15, somewhere in that decade, the British just suddenly had a brain wave and decided to leave it.
We don't want to buy it straight wooden Indian constitution had been possible, right.
Without that 30, 40 years of the kind of social mobilization work that the nationalist movement did, actually creating an organizational form that was in a sense appropriate to the modern world.
Second counterfactual is, I think, the assassination of Gandhi. Which is if Gandhi had not been assassinated and the Odyssey's had not been temporarily delegitimized as a result, would the right wing challenge to meddle in the 1950s have been even stronger than it was? It was actually quite strong. We underestimate how strong it was. I mean, not just supporting our agenda reform, but even within the Congress party, as you know. I mean, frankly, people like going back and so forth are actually frightening figures in the history of Indian companies.
And what The New Republic then has, in a sense, been split, not being able to consolidate enough power in a way that so many countries around the world have found themselves like. I think that's an interesting counterfactual to think about it.
That's fascinating. And I want to come back later to a version of the second counterfactual, and we can talk about that, but there's a lot to unpack. So a couple of observations and questions. One is, you know, it's quite a stunning insight in a sense that genocide is incentivized by democracy, because as you pointed out and you've in the past quoted to you're done with quoting John Stuart Mill, talking about how democracy is all about demography, that the potency of the terms, majority and minority, would not matter anywhere except in a democracy because, you know, it is so critical there.
And therefore, you know, no one thought that strikes me then is that in any democracy, is this kind of majoritarianism politics inevitable at some point? The other sort of threads I want to unpack is that, you know, one of the sort of conflicts at the start, which I don't think we quite figured out either way, is with regards to the Constitution that what is the aim of the Constitution? Should it protect individuals or should it transform society?
And, you know, and obviously my bias would be that it should protect individuals. And if you try to transform society in a top down course, it's only going to end badly. But leave that whole argument aside of what? And it seems to me that, like you point pointed out, that the Constitution was partly shaped by the contingencies of partition. In fact, the Australian given percussion in episode we did on the emergency spoke about how, you know, so many of the centralising impulses of the Constitution came about because the country was being torn apart by violence.
So those people sitting in that room in Delhi obviously wanted to centralize more power. But it then also strikes me in the narrow context of the relationship between the majority and the minority, that we took a protective role towards the minorities, but a transformative role towards a majority. And the classic example of this, and this is something that I think I sort of totally understand your point of view. The example of this is a Hindu bill that, Intocable, you're trying to transform into society, but you're not doing something equivalent for Muslims.
And obviously then, you know, when you have all this talk later on of pseudo secularism and pandering to minorities and all of that do seem to be legitimate grievances. And it is kind of irrelevant whether you should have an equal bill at all or you should reform none of them, whether you should reform both of them, it doesn't matter. But the bottom line is that at that moment, we are not treating them equally. We are saying that, you know, in one case, the Constitution is saying, hey, will protect whatever your customs and whatever they are.
And even though we are not really protecting individual rights, we're just looking at them as a group. But in the other instance, you are saying that, you know, we are transformative and we want to transform you. And I can see why, you know, this this can be just so powerful by itself as a motivating factor. But what my broader question is that how do you then look at, you know, this this conflict between should we protect or should we transform because they are in conflict with each other?
Because every transformative act that you try to do involves coercion and involves sort of not treating citizens equally and all of that. And I can understand that when you look at society at that point and you see so many things wrong with it, you know, it caused it to begin with that obviously no one. But so many other things. And your instinct is that this is horrendous. We must transform it. We do it all now. We have the power of the state.
But those are colonial masters are going to use the power of the state. But I think one of the lessons of history is that Top-Down caution really doesn't work. What you need, a social transformation coming from within the kind of transformation that, in fact, Gandhi would broadly, broadly have sympathized with work on this whole thing was that no, let's let's go into the, you know, the villages and the imperialism in society from within, even if.
It is too idealistic in a short span of time, and I think it seems that we rely too much on the transformative nature of the Constitution due to Hoffe, an inept job there, and didn't bring about any social change either. So what are your sort of thoughts?
That's a very powerful question. And think I agree with much of what you said. But again, I think it just has to broaden the frame a little bit. I think just to I think put that narrative in perspective and and first, maybe spend a couple of minutes on the historical narrative and then come to the deep philosophical point to raised about is this constitution protective of rights of morality, tumbes, or is it a constitutional freedom in some ways.
So, you know, at one level, I think the narrative you're describing, right, that that has got entrenched and I think there's some power to it that the Indian state was seen to act asymmetrically towards communities.
Right now, we can wind the clock back to the 1950s and think of a different kind of counterfactual.
But I do think it's worth, again, remembering two things. And I'm stressing this because I think it's going to come up again in an academic context.
So there is no question that we need as a society a consensus that there are certain basic norms of individual freedom that apply to all communities.
I think if Section two ninety five has to go in, they need to be, quote, offensive to religion, has to go for all communities. I actually don't think a modern state should have a category called offense to religion. Doesn't matter what the religion is in some ways. Right. When it comes to personal loss, for example, which is the most contentious issue. Again, I think the shadow of partition did make a difference, which is, I think, Nehru's concern that not just that minorities feel safe, but remember, you still haven't solved the question, which is who will be exercising power when these the laws are being reformed?
And, you know, the laws do sort of affect the most intimate aspects of a particular culture, as I did in summer. So they're always much more at stake. Now, if you had created those relationships of trust, right, let's say even now I'm all for a uniform civil code. I think it's high time we had it. And even within a uniform civil code, there can be interest. Interesting creative solutions. But the question is. Who do you trust to come up with the content of a code that is actually just and fair to all communities, will the content of that code right, could it unwittingly have a Hindu majority doing it right?
So, you know, going back to the question you asked at the beginning of this program, the missing element in this debate has been what are the conditions of trust under which reforming all our personal laws can be a common project?
The misleading part is there is the state and the state reforms in those, and it doesn't reform even that. Strictly speaking, not true. I mean, I think, you know, for political reasons, the Rajiv Gandhi overturned the Charboneau judgment. In fact, we often forget that the Supreme Court shortly thereafter indention that he kind of reinstated the job on a judgment without much fuss. So there are possibilities of reform even that.
The issue is that the state has always been because it's in a sense seen as a function of majority power. And the more you make it a function of majority powers state, the less reason people have to trust that what comes out of it. Right. Will be actually fed. And just so I think and one of the reasons why we want to lower the temperature of religious politics in India is because that's a necessary condition for paving the way for having this debate in a rational, constructive manner that look in the 21st century.
Right. Common relations cannot be constructed on certain legal rights and so on, so forth. So absolutely. I think that's one. The second thing, I would go even stronger than I mean, to me, the Congress party's unconscionable sin is. That it actually faced Indian Muslims in the worst of both positions, on the one hand, it empowered the most reactionary elements in that society. I mean, what is the Indian all Indian Muslim personal board?
I mean, this is the abuse organization. I mean, seriously, you know, but who sustained its legitimacy, right? I mean, you don't have to have an either. You should you have to say the state comes marching in, but you can create an intelligent politics with these spaces get opened up and people forget, for example, there is an alternative Muslim women's personal proposal on the table. Right. Which is way more progressive. But it was in the Congress party's interest to keep the Muslims backward and with the back against the wall, because at some point they did decide the court that you needed them as a kind of electoral coalition.
I think that the BJP diagnosis is not wrong, that ethnic identities work as. Electoral fraud, not only when there is a kind of collective risk that they appear, if they all become individuals, we actually don't have that. But in the process, you know, when you're talking about the 1950s, if you've ever read Paul Gross's biography of Gerard, think it's an astonishing book, actually one of the best kind of not only in politics, but, you know, the U.S. government in the 1950s created an active program of de Muslimah using up government.
So if you look at the statistics cite Muslim underrepresentation in police, Muslim underrepresentation in public institutions at the state, Muslim representation, politics, this was not just an accident. So you ended up in this bizarre situation where at one level, Muslims are becoming more marginalized, economically, more disempowered.
And in a sense, in some states they've actually fallen behind Dalitz, which is saying quite something right.
As a result of active choices the state made on education, on not giving education as a result of the kind of out attitude we have towards madrassas. But at the same time. Right. And this is the point Tallgrass makes very powerfully. You had politicians like you had politicians like dancing who were electorally secular, but administratively and ideologically like. Rajiv Gandhi, I mean, this is one of the most disastrous episodes in modern history because here is a government with a 400 seat majority.
Frankly, the modern contempt debate and free speech starts with The Satanic Verses, which kind of then sets the paradigm for competitive victimization, the overturning of Charboneau and Congress got it into its head that somehow you could appease both Muslim nationalism and do that.
The net result was simply created collective insecurity all around.
Right now, my plea to the Odyssey's, to the BJP, since they are the hegemonic story, is that there is a lot of truth in your critique. Many of us it I mean, years ago, Congress, secularism and freedom, which I made this point.
But in order to overcome this legacy. The first step has to be, in a sense, the recognition of the kind of civic trust with these conversations do not stoke fears in all sides where it doesn't happen in a context where one group says, look, now we have the power and in a sense we can have them. Frankly, if liberals in the left, I think Muslims might be feeling right now. So the diagnosis had truth to it, but it's in a sense, turning the remedy into a kind of poison.
Right. Which is in some sense is more divisive. Now, coming to your theoretical question, which is what is the vision that would put it this way, that I actually do think the longer term in the new constitution is the emancipation of individuals from all forms of social hierarchies.
I think it recognizes the fact that that can't be done simply through law because you have to actually deploy state, much like you have to put policemen to make sure that people are allowed to enter. Temples are not allowed. Right. And I think the concern for India's diversity in politics that they hoped that it would come out through a negotiated process, like, as you said, there'll be social reform movements. And that's exactly the thing that we completely stop.
I mean, Congress party abdicated it not just because not the state party, but I think even even in some senses more broadly. And the social change that did come about, it was a social change that came about for other secular developments as the economy grows more complex automated duties, whether it be in some senses and so forth.
So I think that was the vision which was a kind of ameliorative transformative mission towards individual rights. I think the mistake that we have made and this is going to exercise a set of our students and sometimes that there are a couple of clauses. For example, if you think of the tools of protection of minority institutions, which can probably be articulated in more individualistic rather than collective terms, and you get the same result, right. In fact, I think in my case, I mean, I think the debate between the room up on anybody ever was actually very instructive, where one interpretation was that the minority clauses in the Constitution are clauses that are setting off exceptions like the other interpretation of the clauses that is not setting up exceptions is just a signal to minorities that these forces will also protect you.
So, for example, I think on, for example, the freedom to run institutions, a simpler approach is and which is, I think, compatible with the text of the Constitution should be simply to say that, look, so long as you're not taking state money and you're not doing any other kind of fiduciary harm to any other constitutional provision, a group should have the freedom to run its institutions as one. And if you have that provision, minorities will automatically it.
Right. I mean, but I think the way in which we've developed that constitutional law, we unnecessarily give this kind of indication that these exceptions are being carved out. Right. But you can achieve those same goals better within a sense freedom. I would also say this about the discourse on diversity. For example, in one of my kind of worries about a lot of my friends actually in our circles, as it were. So we like to celebrate diversity as an astonishing country in some ways.
But diversity is also a conceptual trap because diversity is quite compatible with each person being boxed into a particular identity. We need to defend freedom. If individuals are given freedom, lots of new forms of diversity will emerge, right? Maybe identity categories that we think are silly and right now will cease to be said in five then years. And that's also the good I mean. That's right. So I think that since conception that in order to oppose the mono ethnicity of what you need to propose in its place is diversity, I think is a can be conceptually misleading because diversity is also compatible with a certain kind of fixity.
I think where you and I will probably agree that we just need to go back to the basic jurisprudence of individual rights and dignity, protect those freedoms and all the diversity will come in its wake.
This episode of the scene in the on scene is one where you actually come out as a closet libertarian early, not one of the sort of constant bugbears that I have. And it's not just with regard to the Constitution, but politics today, even more so today, is that we think too much in terms of groups and not individuals. You know, like that old saying goes, an individual is the smallest minority. And the moment to sort of put a label on an individual that you are.
So you are by it. Consider. Individual freedom, and even in the ways that you think of yourself like these structures matter so much, which I'll kind of come back to, but before I ask my other big conceptual question about the founding moment, I want to also go back to the counterfactual, because the more that I read the history of that period and even before, it seems to me that all the leaders of the Congress were internationalists of thought from, you know, pertaining to facade and consciously and so on.
In fact, there's just some, you know, the interesting incident in Uttar Pradesh when, you know, activists have to be installed, the idea of ground within the public masjid and at that point was chief minister and the minister of Yoopers, Alberto Shasti. And Nehru was aghast. And he sent orders that immediately remove the ayatollah and blah, blah, blah, and they prevaricated and then, you know, took over. And it happened because they didn't want it to happen.
But what it also struck me, reading the history of that period, is that Nehru in that sense was a man part in both good days and bad days, not just one or the other, when it's so easy to think of him in binary terms. And therefore, the counterfactual that fascinates me is what if Nehru didn't exist, you know, or whatever, for whatever reason, like, you know, there was a point in 1950 that he got frustrated and he said it and all of that.
And what if for some reason he wasn't the person sort of shaping all of that? Is that something you've thought about? How do you think he would have taken shape differently?
And what we actually have my one of my colleagues and friends, you drunk Mukherjee, the historian, actually, there's also an interesting counterfactual. If Nehru and Bush, together with which they had come very close to and on ideological grounds, they were all on the same side. I think it was it was filial piety towards the kind of kept him in place.
I think what would have happened to the Communist Party in some senses, would it?
But I think in particular in these times, though, I think it's worth remembering one very big thing about that generation, right?
Is, yes, they were they disagreed. Many of them were Hindu nationalist. But it is remarkable that they all recognize greatness when they saw it, and it is remarkable that they continue to agree to work despite their differences.
I mean, I think the relationship, contrary to what the BJP says, is not to point out. It is very complicated, even as the greatest to recognize Naruse and dispensability in some senses at one level and heroin turn at different points, has the openness to say, yes, you know, I can talk to seismology.
Yes, America needs to be part of the game. Munshi, one of the most fascinating figures in the kind of constituent assembly. Right.
So, you know, there's that old saying that often what builds nations is not the consistency of their ideologies. It's in a sense, the sensibilities and temperaments of the people who come together to build it. And I think there was something about that generation that actually trumped a lot of this stuff. I mean, they didn't all walk out in a huff.
They did see the constituent assembly as a joint project. Yes. It was not representative in terms of mass franchise, but Congress did bend over backwards to make sure that you had the makers and the came. And she's in very critical drafting roles in the Constitution.
So I think that sensibility not to take away anything from that, but it is one thing I would give all those others credit for as well, that despite themselves, including themselves, despite themselves, they actually did see not just narrow, but I think it was a kind of tacit acknowledgment that Nehru stands for more than Nehru, the person there is a implicit constitutional vision that can be shades of disagreement.
And I think what reconciles, I think this fact, the kind of how can you be internationalist Congress is, as I said, I think because it's so much outwardly directed.
I mean, I think one of the interesting things about 20th century internationalism is that.
Internally, it is also always try to place itself as progressive. It has to be at the kind of cutting edge of globalization and, you know, the example, for example, have been in the relationship between Hindus and others. SoloPower has an edge, but is internally a reformer in some senses. And I think there are a few I can go in, for example, where I think genuine conservatives, which is what they want to preserve that sort of older dramatical hierarchical order.
So the success of that generation of Hindu nationalism was that they did create a certain kind of internal peace with modernity that, look, this is the trajectory inevitably will have to go down.
As I said, I think the problem was that it was quite compatible with a certain kind of prejudice and hostility to Muslims.
And by the way, you don't have to be in the national interest in the prejudices, you know. I mean, you know, many liberals can have that right.
And not being able to disentangle the ideological and constitutional aspects from where does the shading to just becoming a prejudiced against that. I just don't like you for who you are. It's nothing. It's nothing that you do. You're just very being poses a threat.
I think that's just an autonomous dynamic. But, yes, I mean, to your right that I think Nehru became the kind of indispensable figure where even these internationalists sort of recognize that for the kind of progressivism they had in mind internally, it needed to be embodied in a figure who was more constitutional in some ways than they were.
And I you know, when I framed the question, I didn't mean the term Hindu nationalist pejorative sense, but in these modern times, it comes across like that somewhere. So my next question, and this might be a little long winded, I'll begin by quoting something that you have written in your excellent book, The Burden of Democracy. But you wrote, quote, If the faith reposed in democracy was unique to India, the style in which government was imagined was anything but the entire colonial state apparatus with the laws, conventions, ubiquitous roads, faith in the impartiality of the few good men that comprise the state was taken over almost intact.
To be sure, the state was now to be used for national aims to secure India's territorial integrity, to spread and implement the development of the new regime. But the relationship between the state apparatus to whatever ends it was going to be displayed and democracy was going to forever remain contentious. Stockwood And again, when one looks at the constituent assembly or debates, you have some not like repointing exactly the South, where he talks about the fundamental rights, the way they have been framed with the Gaviota immediately following the latest escort.
I feel that many of these fundamental rights have been framed from the point of view of a police constable. You will find that many minimal rights are considered and are almost invariably followed by a provision which takes away a right almost completely stopped. And my sort of question here is that does the design of the state then shape the culture and shape society itself? For example, in the same book, you later talk about how the structural inequalities within society can shape the self.
And I'll that BAKERSVILLE or that inequality in our relations to the state are not simply structural injustices. They also profoundly shape our sense of self and the social possibilities. It is a peculiar sense of the self in relation to others that social inequality in the state has produced. It gives Indian politics extra support. And this is sort of, you know, it is my thinking that the design of the state that the founders chose a lot of it to Inácio, that you just took over the colonial apparatus and took over so much of the APC and didn't have didn't safeguard fundamental rights strongly enough in the Constitution.
What that did was that it centralised power. It made the state very powerful. And again, I think the point of view of a citizen, I think of the matrix of possibilities for how an individual can get ahead and what happens in those sort of what the design of the state then almost incentivizes is that you get ahead by manipulating the state, by getting yourself into and seeking positions, by using the power of the state to your ends and not so much through voluntary action within society, which is a positive sum game.
Jagdish Bhagwati once pointed out, I think around 2008, you know, China has a profit-taking mindset and India has a rent seeking mindset and mind. You know, one of the conjectures, one of my conjectures for why that might be so is the design of our institutions where the easiest way, at least for many decades, to make a fast buck to get ahead in India was to become part of the state apparatus and some of the. The power of the sea, which is a zero sum game, but rather than rely on voluntary action within society, which is basically what actual free markets instead of the markets we've had for most of this time would enable.
So what do you think about this? Like is the design of the state something that has fundamentally changed society and shaped culture itself, just like way it was conceived or not conceived in the sense that we just took over the colonial apparatus?
Oh, of a large and profound question. And I think it is divided into three different aspects of the state because I think the logic operates differently. But I do have to say, I think, you know, while I understand the spirit of judicious court, I think it's hard to argue that China is also more than of, in fact, that maybe they're smarter about how to do it. But the scale is actually a whole different, staggeringly different order.
So I think I'll give you sort of three different bits, three different parts of the state, one which I think you began alluding to, which is in the realm of civil liberties.
Might we retained large parts of the Criminal Code, IPC, Section two ninety five sedition law. I think most scandalously, the Supreme Court's speaking to the State or Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the early judgments and Gopalan.
Now, did I actually do think that? Even though it was only episodically used, the culture in opening that we created for easy violations of civil rights, I think then set a template that which is used later on.
And you could argue, look, again, don't make this judgment in hindsight. You've just come out of partition. We can't even actually, in a sense, imagine I mean, anyone who says this, I mean, the last parts of this country of India, this is extraordinary that none of us have any idea what India is going to look like. Right. I mean, we just suffered this extraordinary trauma, which they weren't in a position of understanding.
But I don't think that that excuse the full extent.
I do slightly disagree with you a little bit on this whole question of sort of the limitations to rights in the Indian constitutions, particularly on freedom of expression and so forth, because there are two ways of looking at that limitation.
Right. One is that, you know, you could actually say that look, and I think that was the intent behind those limitations is. Inevitably, these things will end up coming to court and somebody will say something outrageous. And I think as mother, of course, Facebook has pointed out that one of the reasons you probably have a little bit of excess codification in the Indian constitution. Is because the framers wanted to make sure that there were only particular kinds of limitations and questions that the judges actually asked if there was danger.
Right. And by the way, I mean, if you take free speech, for example, I mean, just to put it in perspective, you know, the American Constitution's record, even in the late 50s, was as appalling as Indian states was. I mean, you know, pacifist was arrested in 1920s and 1930s. So it's, I think, a tricky thing. But I actually agree with you. And I think I think on a couple of things like sedition and so forth, this is no excuse for what we put in the text of the Constitution.
And I think that created a culture, I think, in the judiciary that frankly does not ask any questions of the state when it comes to the exercise of executive power or civil liberties. It didn't ask it in the 50s in the emergency in Saginaw, asking it now.
I think there's a second dimension state, which is the where you are coming from, where I most sympathy with your argument.
I think the position, no matter what anybody says, most of us are supporters of the 1991 economic reforms, whether it was certainly the case that the state created this absolute intricate and self reinforcing web of patronage and corruption, which corroded political and social life and stymied economic efficiency in ways that we cannot even imagine. No two ways about it. Now, again, I think a little bit of historical perspective, which is that some of it, I think was inevitable.
When we look, we forget in nineteen forty seven right there, we had a foreign exchange crisis that is virtually no domestic capital to speak of.
I mean, the capital, as we understand it, doesn't exist as exists.
Right. In some senses, there's no market in some senses as we speak of.
Right. And there are no capabilities because the one thing the British colonialism was not was a development colonialism.
I mean, I think my old colleagues argue this very powerfully. I mean, the British did was interested in keeping order, extracting and using tariffs and other things to get a trade advantage. And that was about it. There was no serious development of investment.
So to that extent, it was inevitable that the state would have to be the locus of some kind of collective action, because development requires us doing things, not just letting people see to do things. I mean, it's OK to say that, you know, you have the freedom to invest, but if there is zero capital, where do you go?
But even then, I would support it, which is that I do think at least even as early as the late 50s, I think that action should be directed that particularly on domestic industrial production, the license plate Metrojet, as we called it, needed to be, in a sense, dismantled.
It also had the consequence of becoming enmeshed in our electoral economy so that those were the events that then sustained political coalitions for. So I think on that I'm in agreement with you and I think my big buddies, that we are actually going to go back to the bad old days of the 70s, I think there's going to be too much sort of, in some senses, discretion in the allocation of capital of the kind that we witnessed in the 70s.
But the port area and to me, this is the biggest, frankly, failure of the industry because other ones were correctable in some ways. Was. In order for markets to function like. They need to be certain this line necessary conditions in place if India is to be competitive, you need logistics, you need energy, you need education, even higher quality public health. Right.
And I didn't even in this state in the 1950s and 60s, was that the place where it needed to have a more effective catalyzing? Was the place where it unconscionably feels the most, right, and actually then creating decades of distrust about the state, so you got the worst of both worlds.
You didn't get the efficiencies of an entrepreneurial culture, but you did not get I mean, and this is one difference between India and communist China, the one difference between India and the Soviet Union, other communist countries. You actually did not for years and years to ipis apart and so forth, get the human capital, infrastructure, energy base. I mean, one thing we forget about the Chinese, that's what it does. Right. And it's not just a free market, but it did manage to educate its population faster than we did.
It did manage to create the collective goods that are required for competitiveness, particularly infrastructure. I mean, even now, the thing that worries me is nobody asking what makes an economy competitive, right? It's energy costs, just costs human capital costs.
These are the basic places where the state needed to have a role. And these are the places in which the way in which the state ended up being designed.
Was a catastrophe.
I think education being the prime example where it wasn't so much that I mean and I lay my cards on the table in this, which is I actually do think you need good and effective forms of public education.
The very few examples in the world of societies sort of not being able to do or being able to educate the population without public education, but the form in which you design the education system where, for example, teachers unions got enmeshed in the political process.
I mean, it was a disaster waiting to happen and in some senses. A lot of the privatization that happens in India does not happen because of the first principles that you are talking about it simply because the state failure. Let's go to the market, accept that the conditions for making the market succeed.
As I said, light, but effective regulation still don't exist in many areas.
The last and final thing I'd say about this, and I think for those of us who are particularly worried about economic reform, as I'm sure you are right, you know, the the challenge which we haven't solved is the relationship of Indian capital to Indian politics.
So, one, I'll be very honest with you, I think the Indian Indian capital itself has been a relatively unenlightened group. I mean, even now in the back is against the wall. I mean, three percent growth, as Marx would have said, just not thinking is a plus for itself. Sometimes they would actually I mean, at least on their own terms. Right. But I have something more in mind in the relationship between capital and politics, which is because politics depended on certain forms of resource generation.
The close connections between capital and politics ended up undermining both a lot of reforms didn't happen because income and capital didn't want it. I mean, that was not on this model in some ways. I mean, it wasn't that she was anti anticapitalist is just that.
Like the builders are, you know, periodically tearing up. I mean, I was once reading the KGB archives of this archive, just kind of randomly an extraordinary, fascinating thing of the 70s, right. Where Pranab Mukherjee, Tokura, my stalwarts of the Congress, are kind of mediating with the Russians and the trade for the supply of tobacco. I mean, you know, and you can guess what the main the main objective of that mediation was. So in some senses, the Indian state has always thought it necessary.
To control Capitol enough, what happened in nineteen ninety one was we unleashed liberalisation in some sectors because we said there are vents to be collected elsewhere, that the markets in particular.
Now, what you could do, in fact, in markets was just mind boggling.
And that's the crisis that came to haunt us in a we're just at the moment where the Indian capital was being legitimized finally.
You suddenly have this public perception that Indian capital is broken all the way down because fact the markets have good credit.
Right? I mean, this is one thing which very few in India have paid attention to. And I think these Barghuti dad was right. I think Arvind Subramanian reasoned arguments are right, which is we just didn't pay enough attention to finance and the way in which the structures of financialization might create this deeply unhealthy relationship between state and capital to the point where the capital itself can't be a counterweight to the state because it's so dependent.
And frankly, we are entering an even more exalted phase of that debate. I mean, I think what you're going to get in the next five, 10 years is you're going to get greater and greater concentrations of capital, in part produced by unfair regulatory arbitrage by the state. Right. And because capital allocation is actually what matters to markets is going to distort the opportunities of lots of small, medium, genuine entrepreneurs.
So we just haven't got that state capital relationship. And I think, to be honest, I think the problems at both ends because it's also the incumbent holders of capital. Will continue to subsidize not just because it's in the individual interest, but I can understand. But I think even in the way in which to articulate what the demands are right. And therefore both going to distort our politics and the structure of capitalism.
So I have four observations to make on these very insightful thoughts of yours. But before that, first, I just informed my listeners that I had a great episode with one of Koslo on his book, India's Founding Moment, and we discussed this. And I'll continue to be a little skeptical about the rationale of those caveats about expectations or limitations. I'm not quite sure of that. But leaving that aside observation, one, I'm kind of struck by the paradox that we have both lost faith in the state.
And yet, you know, there's almost a religion around the state in the sense that, one, we don't expect the state to do anything for us. We kind of exist in spite of the state because there is no rule of law anywhere, for example. And that might be one reason, for example, that the performance of the current government doesn't matter at all. The approval ratings are super high because people just have completely disassociated what is happening in their lives, in the governance they are getting with whoever is in charge.
But at the same time, that's paradoxical because whenever anything goes wrong and Indian want something to change, their instinctive response is that the state should do this, that the state should pass a law or the state should fund this or whatever. And this is a paradox I of struggle to get my head around. There's a disconnect here. My second observation is that, you know what you said about education. In fact, I just had a great episode on this Withcott Equalitarian, which was 20 minutes.
And, you know, one of the things I'd like to say is that I don't think there is a binary between public education and private provision. What I have always been in favor of is that, by all means, we have public education, but also allow private education, know allow private entrepreneurs to set up schools for profit, don't set conditions. And all of that just make it easy for them, which doesn't mean you do away with public education.
And my contention is that just as we saw in 91, that you freed up telecom, you freed up airlines. And we can see the difference that competition made in those areas where you can buy a mobile phone today for 600 rupees. And access is so democratized and easily available and nobody misses Empty-Handed. I suspect the same would happen to education. But even if it doesn't keep the public education going, you don't need to constrain private entrepreneurs. And I think this was of one fundamental flaw in the design of the street or even back in the design.
There is no capital. You need to build industries, but you don't stop others from doing all the stuff you for them. My third observation was what you said about capital in politics, where first I'd like to draw the distinction that what is good for capitalism is often not good for the people that you know, Milton Friedman, to draw a distinction between pro-business and pro markets. And I remember no one's making the argument in his book, Indira Gandhi, where he spoke about the Bombay plan and how sort of, you know, in the 40s so many businessmen were for Nehru StreetLink model.
But the point is, of course, they would be they wanted protectionism. They wanted to protect that sort of area, which is why, you know, what is good for big business is not necessarily good for markets. But the other point there about money and power, that is something that I feel very strongly about is that, yes, of course, there is a vicious circle between money and power. Money will always choose power and use it to generate more money.
That's the nature of the game. I think there is only one way to break that, which is not by demonizing big money, but which is instead by reducing the power of the street to the extent that it no longer makes sense for big money to chase that power instead of big industrialists will say, How can I make money? I have to make it by creating better products and by competing better because I cannot use the coercive powers of the state to stop my competitors or do anti-competitive things.
That was observation, but I'm sorry if this is a thing. And my fourth one is really sort of a question that comes from this question of the design of the state, which is that when the BJP took over in 2014 from the Congress, at one level it seems like a very fundamental shift. I phrased it perhaps almost to grandiosely by saying that politics has finally caught up with culture or whatever. You have referred to it as something that could, you know, reverse India's progress to a point where the damage may be irreversible.
But my my larger sort of observation here is that just as independent India led to a takeover of a colonial apparatus by rulers with a different color of skin, similarly, it might be the case that in 2014, what simply happened was that the BJP took over an identical state apparatus. In fact, the laws under which all of these people were Witherow and all these guys have been arrested. Our laws framed by the. Which many of the poorest did in the past, and therefore it is really the same old, same old, it's a different bunch of people with slightly different imperatives.
But the fundamental flaw, which was a flaw in the conception and design of the states, remains.
So I think to broadly agree with you, but I think we need to have more fun if we disagree a little bit, at least the nuances that I think two things.
So one last one, which I think is fair enough. I mean, I do think one of the things we need to reflect about the fact is that the BJP did not need to create any new law to, in a sense, imposes a traditional comedy designed strike. But I think there is a second part of the culture story that we often don't reflect on and off, which is every constitution needs to be made to work.
I mean, if. Only design produced, and in fact, the more I study Public Eye, I used to actually believe a lot in institutional design and still do, obviously design matters, internal incentives matter. Structures of accountability better. But one of the sobering lessons of history is. You can have all those design features, but if the aims of that constitution are not internalized by its principal functionaries, it's not going to work. And I think the Supreme Court is a perfect example.
I mean, you know, it's one thing to say, look, there is a law, sedition laws still on the books. It's another thing to say that the Supreme Court says we are not going to give you a habeas corpus hearing for a year.
I mean, there's no conceivable constraint that I mean, no, you can raise know, post retirement appointments, although I don't think that's the issue here.
So I actually do think that we are in this interesting moment. And one of the reasons I worry about a lot of the institutional design stuff is that sometimes it actually displaces individual responsibilities, but it becomes a convenient excuse. I mean, the Supreme Court throws his hands up and says this is how the Constitution is like that. You can do it tomorrow and in a sense, render a judgment.
Then, you know, constitutions are often, in a sense, destroyed by that. It needs to be honest. I mean, the masses have certain grievances. And I think what we are witnessing in the sense is for a variety of reasons. That destruction, but even the most independent of institutions on paper, right, are caving in ways that actually don't make sense. Even the United States, for example, I mean, you know, is having a similar challenge where constitutional law scholars will say, you know, we can't go into class now and tell our kids what is the American constitution.
So I do think we need to think about that aspect, going back to the human nature pontificate, which is that think about the role of officials in all of this. The second thing I think I wanted to say, I agree with your point about kind of schooling and stuff. It can be done in a way in which it is neither either all but on this when seeking it. And I think you're exactly right, which is that on first principles, if you keep the state out of business, this is can be kept out of state.
But here's the second sobering lesson, right? Which is that if your image of where you can keep the state out is license for much kind of restrictions on production and, you know, restrictions on pricing. You're absolutely right.
But any modern business is enmeshed in a different set of regulatory budgets. So think of environmental regulation, for example. Right now, you could in principle come up with the solution, come up with a tort law penalty solution. But again, there is no regulatory place in the world, right, where the state will not have to take some decision land as a scarce resource in some ways, like zoning is a state decision. I mean, we forget how much of the US political economy is simply a function of zoning.
Right. OK, you have to do some coordination function in zoning. Right now. What is unfortunately happening is that the weight of that corruption has shifted to all of these areas or there's greater risk in these years. These are all just corrupt in some ways, like environmental regulation, factor markets, all of that.
So even if all that you're saying is correct, I think in large areas of where you can think of deregulation, there is still enough important areas left which are fundamental to businesses being able to operate, but also social good need to be protected in some ways that I don't think simple liberalization is going to be the whole answer, because you and that's exactly what we saw was 91 that, you know, I don't have to pay money now to get a phone.
I don't have to pay money to get an industrial license, but I do have to pay money if I want to produce my water or things of that kind.
So we need to think smartly about where do we need to. Right.
Produce regulation and simply the narrative that if we simply got the state out of it is actually not going to tell the whole story.
No, I actually agree with you. And this is probably where I come out of the closet as a non libertarian, my purest friends would say I'm not saying that, you know, there should be no state regulation in areas like the environment, for example, because it's very obvious that that's a place where you do need the state and even cozier solutions won't always work. But those are sort of kind of exceptional cases. Let's take a quick commercial break.
And then when we come back, let's get down to talking about Indian politics itself and how it has evolved on the street.
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Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm still talking with Richard Blumenthal about, you know, the state of our democracy. Seventy three years after we became independent. And I want to talk about politics right now. And I want to you know, I'll quote again from your book, The Burden of Democracy, where at one point you said, quote, The imperatives of seeking sustainable majorities, most observers argue moderate, even the most radical of movements, giving Indian politics a largely centrist cost structure.
And this is both I would point profoundly true and also is being profoundly challenged in these modern times. And I want your response to both of those one. I think it's it's obsolete, profoundly true, because, you know, as we were discussing before the show, the lens of left and right don't necessarily matter to you in India, because all parties, when it comes to, you know, are sort of left of center when it comes to economics, which is to say that their statist and they believe in the heavy hand of the state and equally right of center when it comes to society, as we can see in these modern times.
But even the Congress and the party pandering to the same sort of voter base which the BJP seems to have locked up. So in that sense, they are kind of similar, perhaps because being skilled politicians that have an acute sense of what the culture is like and maybe as that changes over time, supply will are just automatically to demand. But the other aspect where it is being challenged is that what I find in modern politics, and this is possibly something catalyzed by technology, is that there is a tendency to make people more and more extreme.
So a couple of things. I think what technology has done is that it creates what Cass Sunstein calls group polarization, which is, you know, one, there might be preferences that you do not treat in public because they're not considered polite or acceptable, which could involve bigotry or sexism or whatever. But then through social media, you see that enough people share, that you get emboldened and you form what is called a preference cascade, which is why a lot of parties and politicians don't need to dog whistle anymore.
They can just straight up see the most outrageous thing. But the other thing, what happens is that our tribalism expresses itself and are forming these echo chambers and these sort of tribes online. And that drifts towards the extremes automatically because how do you live within your own group? You do it by signaling how much of a true believer you are, which could be by, you know, a lot of virtue signalling, abusing the other side, not arguing with or usually abusing if it's social media or even attacking adherents of even attacking people in your own tribe who you are not good enough, you know, and feel some essential purity test and therefore you raise your own status within your own group.
And what this seems to do is it seems to have an influence within not just on social media, but an influence on politics where everyone is driven to the extremes. So in America, you have a trump on one extreme and you have the rise of work politics at the other extreme, which is also looking at, you know, neo Marxist narratives of oppression and so on. And, you know, looking at group identities rather than individuals. You have an extremism happening there.
And similarly, what you know, in India, they're all cut from the same mold. But what we have seen within the BJP or the Jang Song as it was before, is a diet. An observation commonly made is that each leader seems, you know, makes the previous guy look moderate so much by Chumba Prasad look moderate Advani. It was very moderate and so on to Modi and other to not and God knows who next. And it almost seems inevitable that then within a party, within a tribal probably was the only way to raise your stature is not by seeming moderate because then you can be accused of being a sellout or whatever, but by being more extreme than the last guy.
And therefore everybody is driven to these extreme fringes. And this is quite the opposite of what you call, you know, the centrism that you said would come through. Pragmatism is now actually, you know, just going in the opposite direction of what are your thoughts on this?
Well, this is a big question, to be honest. I think one has to acknowledge that we still don't fully know the dynamics of the moment. We are. I mean, I think a lot of clarity will come in hindsight, but I think two or three observations. One, I think it's probably always a good. When thinking about politics to first begin, about what objective facts might have changed, I mean, I think the the point about social media, the generation of a certain kind of discourse is a very important one.
I think I'll build up to it. But, you know, when we talk of the cynicism of Indian politics and I think there is a little bit of a difference between India and the US, so that outcome might seem similar. In hindsight, I think the centrism was premised on two facts about social policy. So the first fact was that Indians may not be individually liberal in the way that you would kind of describe it, but the sources of social power are fragmented enough that no force can kind of concentrate them.
There are some traditional lines in which they're fragmented region, caste, even religion under certain circumstances that the good thing as a result many years ago was the reason that the founders of the centrist thesis had these natural sources of social power while their illiberal internally, they also act as a certain kind of break or the centralization of power.
So the first question for me to ask is what has happened to these natural breaks? And we always used to say, look, even the old congressman who dominated had to be a coalition of all of these, right? You have to be the kind of dominant cost within the legal coalition. What is it about this moment that the BJP gained, in essence, override that? In some ways I can create this mega majoritarian coalition and that, I think, has to do with some profound changes in Indian society.
And some are actually good changes, I mean, the unintended consequences of good changes.
So, one, I think what has happened is, you know, the regional parties, in a sense, have also declined in a manner of speaking. I mean, the traditional parties, the CMC, the DMK, there's a whole bunch of. But they have declined in the sense that, you know, a lot of their age came from the imminent prospect of a kind of north Indian in the Germany being imposed. The BJP sometimes internally divided on this, but for the most part, they have managed to neutralize that fear.
I mean, occasionally people tried and frankly, I think it's much more fashionable in my circles to make this up.
The result is every regional party thinks that whoever is acceptable, we can do business with them. Right. So I think that's that's one thing that's that's what happened to region, I think, last year. And I think in an interesting position where. For. Many decades after independence, cost was a mobilizing force and sometimes in a good way, I mean, in the sense that the demand was a demand for a certain kind of intrusion, like it's not a sort of exclusive demand in some ways.
It's just saying give us what everybody has like.
But the logic of cost inclusion was agglomerated, right? So when the Dravidian movements first started, you had to build bigger and bigger coalitions.
When the BSP came up in the you had to the object was to agglomerated so that they become a cohesive social movement.
MUNDELEIN That to the abuses and those agglomerated movements required two things. It required a lot of work of culture. Most of these came about after years of social movements. Right. And second, they required a focal point around which to mobilize, so in the south, it was kind of anti communism, simplifying it a little bit. In the north, it became reservations. Mundell became another focal point.
Now we are at an interesting inflection point where both of the energies of the social movement have disappeared again.
VSP once it came to power, the social movement kind of dissipated, but also the agglomerated potential of a focal point is dissipated, which is now the demand for reservationist is demand for subdivision, right?
Ebix jackdaws versus Jemma's nonusers versus not the others and will be Seasprite.
And there isn't a single straightforward focal point, which in a sense unites this agglomerated mobilization, and I think the BJP has been very clever in grasping that, you know, so when in a state like yuppy even the other war to succeed days, you actually know that the mobilization is gone.
Right now, the good news in this is that what it shows and you can do a similar thing for, in a sense, Class-Based things. So when the Rudolf's wrote that book, The Farmers Movement of the Labor Movement with a kind of two big balls of trade. Now, India actually doesn't have a farmers movement anymore. Let's be very clear. Partly because the contradictions of different kinds of farmers, partly because agriculture has become unenumerated and the fragmentation of thought sizes, the desire of people to move out because of the politicization of local budgets.
Right. None of these basic social identities that were kind of agglomerate forces for mobilization exist anymore, at least not in the same to the same form or say, power. They may crop their head up if somebody poses a real existential threat.
Right, and that's what the BJP has been very clever at neutralizing.
So what I think happened to centrist politics in India, let's call it that for want of that and party, because I think they were reading too much social science. They all became socially deterministic.
But India's natural checks and balances, not costless religion, regent, you know, I mean, nobody can take over the system.
Right. And as I said, I think that there is something kind of interesting about this moment, because it has embedded I mean, you can't even think of a agrarian producers are both consumers and producers.
You know, they can walk different ways in different contexts. Now, once this December thing happens, then it opens up the space for the creation of a new kind of agglomerate de force.
Right. And one thing I think Mr. Modi, GLAST and BJP grokked is that. Identities are not natural in that sense, they have to be created through the work of mobilization, tapping into fears, propaganda, the lowest it's been, its biggest failing always is always socially deterministic in class.
This, of course, read this off.
And it got together all the elements of it. And it got it has a social movement like Dionysus, whatever else you might say about it is actually social. You you know, even in this age of social media, one of the things we forget that how much the BJP relies on sheer human power, door to door campaigning. I mean, last election we were visited by the BJP guys six times. I don't think I saw Congress work up. So it's kind of got that base.
Moodies, in a sense, recalibrated that identity into this collective narrative, the sort of hurt.
And then, of course, he played the card of the decline of the old regime, that event that that became a symbol of plutocracy, corruption, dynasty, decrepitude. And frankly, that old order has more fight left. I mean, there's just the right. So I think and in that sense, I think India is a little bit different, which is that and what the BJP is, in a sense, managed to do is its version of what the Congress did between nineteen twenty and nineteen fifty eight, which has created a generative, newly generated social identity.
Now it needs the other occasion. And as I said, it smartly uses lots of elements.
I mean, I joke because one of the things about India is that, you know, it can be totalitarian, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. It can be Democratic in the afternoon.
If could be in the evening, it can be sometime in the day. So he can play the liberal card when he wants to put the lock. You can play a dog whistle card when he's campaigning in Bihar.
Right. So I would still argue, actually, that that driver is actually what led breakdowns and the challenge for any opposition is that once politics operates in this way, the entry Cassano Hyett. Right. Because now you can't do what the Congress is trying to do.
The last election, you know, some of the delegates will get upset and somehow you just hope the big volleys get upset enough and, you know, the families get upset about it because you have to do this on national scale. Now, national scale requires resources of a different order of magnitude. It requires control in some senses of the propaganda information machinery where BJP has a natural incumbent advantage to be basically cornered. All of television media manages to control most of print media in connivance with Indian deputies.
And it's interesting that the BJP, when it started out as an insurgent group, used social media right. But contrary to what people thought, traditional media still remains important for it. I mean, it's important to remember that the pages that we get right. It's important that, you know, scripts go out to television producers all the time.
Right. And because Mr. Modi is, in a sense, kind of both presidential direction, in ways which we did not think possible.
The entry barriers for somebody to dislodge are now going to be just that much higher.
So I actually do think there's a and as I said, part of it is as a result of those complex development processes that happened in the last 10, 15 years, that we actually did see a little bit of that disembarking from that sociological fatalism, the polarization in the social media and forms of communication stuff I think that you're talking about, I think is is interesting.
And I don't claim to understand the dynamics of it.
I mean, is this just a passing phase of the kind of permanent feature?
As I said, the one thing social media does manage to do is because of this asymmetry between truth and dope. I think it's much easier to, in a sense, bring down reputations because all you need to and and in a sense, create that platform for the kind of pervasive cynicism each of us has, a skeleton closet that's that seems to be the one commentator of social media, like the way you are using this to impugn somebody's credibility right now on the polarization and echo chamber story.
The other important feature of social media, which I think is more important than I think the equitable dynamics, because echo chambers, you could in principle connect. I mean, you do exist in other spaces as well other than social media and presumably interacting with different kinds of people. The important part of social media is that it completely this is the distinction between public and private.
So the kind of conversation, I think that might have been OK in private, you know, sometimes even using inappropriate words, you sometimes see things for the heck of it. Once you have put it out in your social media, that actually defines your identity in some ways, like the bad tweet that you made, in a sense.
Right now, the minute you make your identities public in that way, it automatically congeals them and seizes it because you have no other option but to defend yourself to death. And you know that the tweet becomes you like a than look.
OK, I said this way on reflection of changed my mind.
So in some ways, the performative aspect of this where it has actually made visible. Are impulsive thoughts, right? When philosophers used to have a joke. I think Wittgenstein's advice, that's philosophers each other, they should raise their hands and say, slow down.
You know, before you say something in social media, your performance, in a sense, becomes your identity defines you. And to my mind, I mean, this is just anecdotal thing. But when I see, you know, I find the echo chamber issue less significant. I mean, people still talk to people.
And obviously the scene doesn't echo chambers. I mean, they're responding to that in some ways.
Right? I think it's just that once you've taken a position in public saying, sorry, rejoicing is simply not an option. The second thing, which is, as Plato said, in democracy, the most corrupting thing is, of course, the desire for the domination and popularity. Right.
If more time often is more attention, right. Then I have to differentiate and say the most outrageous things possible. The problem is I may be doing it for a pretty it might almost be a game in some cases like.
But that, in some sense becomes you like it's an interesting question, you know, how even I'm sure you've experienced this, your perception of people's arguments and work changes because of what you've seen on them, on social media.
And I think there's a good reason liberalism insisted on the distinction between public and private, not just because the private is a space where you shield yourself from a kind of public gaze, but because private is also a space where you can churn and form before you actually appear in public.
Right, and that's just completely gone. I mean, you're quite happy making assessments, you know, I don't want them to be transparent, frankly. Right.
But once they are, that's who you become in my eyes.
That's a fascinating insight. I've just finished writing this essay called A Meditation on Farm, not published yet, but a newsletter where I am speculating on how the forms that you write and read shaped not just the content, like it's of course, a trivial matter that writing for Twitter will make your content more concise or more simplistic or whatever, but also shape the person. And one way of doing that is right. You know, I God that Twitter was not around when I was 20.
Otherwise, what I would have done is I would have tweeted the kind of nonsense I used to think that I would have doubled down on it and I would have become that person. So that's a great insight that you just shared. And of course, the other thing that I think the other profound way in which social media has changed us all is that, you know, 20 years ago there was a broad consensus on the truth. You got your mainstream newspapers and whatever, and there was a broad sense, and now it's just everybody choosing her narrative.
And then you just listen to the sources that feed that narrative. A couple of questions for you based on what you were talking about, cost and the BJP and sort of on that one is about the BJP itself, which is that what they have done is that and whether we attribute this political genius to macho or it's a combination or whatever is a different matter. But what they did was that they played identity and politics brilliantly in the sense that, of course, all politics has been underwritten.
But they manipulated it brilliantly in the sense that they could go inside yuppy and they could say, OK, you know, the others are going to us. We'll go for the donya the vote because we go for the non-negative dullards in Austria. We go for the nonmarital seats. So they really figured out which end of the market they want. And they went for that with great pragmatism. And one of the things that they managed to do in that process, as Shankar talked about in his book, how the BJP had an episode with him as well, is that they became the de facto party of India or whatever activists may say.
The bottom line is that more Delattre voted for the BJP than their opponents, both in 2014 and 2019. They've managed to agglomerate that identity within the larger umbrella of whatever they stand for, which is, you know, very interesting to me. So the two questions are related to this that I sort of have is that one within the BJP as we see them today, we see two conflicting impulses. One impulse is the practical impulse of politics, where you do whatever it takes to power, which includes mergers and acquisitions, where you'll buy images from the Congress and you might have abused them during the election, but you buy them anew from the government and all of that and as a practical impulse of power politics.
But the other is also the ideological impulse of being true to their core social movement and whatever that was, which also you see expressed in ways that are hardly unique to elaborate upon. So one question, would you kind of make of this? And if it is a movement from the latter towards the former, that is if it is going to become more and more pragmatic about retaining power than those that dilute the ideological edge. Or since the ideological age is the dominant strain in the culture anyway, it doesn't really matter.
That's one question. And the other question on cost is that the sort of direction we took at our founding moment of seeing that we will transform society from the top down unicast is, of course, we would agree one of our most grievous problems, if not the original sin of Indian civilization, as we put it, but was the right way to solve it. The top down approach that we took, which instead seems to have entrenched a certain kind of toxic identity politics, which just makes divisions worse and doesn't actually help with the problem.
OK, so let me begin with a question first, and then we come to the BJP, because I think this so, you know, I mean, I think this is something I think we have to acknowledge, right. That I mean, we can debate the merits or demerits of reforming it through the state.
But the fact of the matter is that reform of that social system did have an element that would have involved the state. So first of all, you need a legal structure that outlaws certain forms of discrimination and so forth.
And in a sense, a lot of the focus of the debate over caste focused on one instrument, which was reservations.
And I don't want to use this episode to kind of debate the pros and cons.
I mean, I think the reservations for Dalitz were not only justified, but I actually still think that continue to be justified. We can have an argument for that. I think what the expansion of reservations to.
Be in the form that they took in London, did, was that it actually won. It took out the specificity of the desert experience and in a sense, the entire discourse became about sharing a particular small pie. In fact, it let us off the hook in some ways because the core of a society. Right, which is you should not discriminate against people for who they are. That question kind of ducked out of our consciousness. Know, we kept single reservation.
We don't discriminate. Hello. Wake up. Right.
So I think I think that's one thing. I think I think bearing in mind. But I in the larger context, why the reservation to be to perform it and frankly, there's a lot of bad faith on our part. Is the state to come that instrument? In my view, not because it wanted a top down transformation of society. But because it wanted a cheap and ineffective transformation of society, so reservationist cheap, it actually doesn't cost too many resources.
You know, whatever institutions you have, you just kind of, you know, allocate. What we did not do, which would have taken collective action, was actually make education accessible. Right. I mean, frankly, to goes us to 10, 15 years, you know, I mean, in the almost sixty five years to even universal enrollment, right.
So resolution was not about a resolution, was simply a very cheap way of India's elites satiating the demand for representativeness, knowing full well that one of the advantages of having reservation is that you take your retention of these other things.
I mean, in my knowledge commission base, we used to often ask politicians, Vitka always amused by the fact that whenever there's a reservation, of course, there's a focal point of mobilization, night for and against. Which was the last political party. I mean, I can think of maybe Kamaraj as an exception and maybe up briefly in. That actually got really upset about the quality and accessibility of education to its constituents, which.
You will be Ciardelli party, right? Ask the question, what is the nature of quality education in our schools?
So frankly, reservation was our other cheap way of warding off the problem. And the biggest casualty of this, I mean, one is the one you alluded to, which is does it entrench identities in a particular way? But I think the even bigger category was permanent distrust.
So and I have to say that I cannot in good conscience give an answer to this question. If you go and talk to the students, many of whom are quite willing, not just willing, but quite happy to indissoluble, where reservations would not necessarily they, of course, understand all the arguments that we make.
Look, isn't it better to give everybody education? Is it better to do ABCDE? But we can't look them in the eye and say with a straight face that anybody actually intended to do that. Right. So and and to me, that's actually the vicious cycle, that's the trust deficit that is now, in a sense, so deep, right, that it will take a 10 year performance by a state to show, look, we can deliver all of these things that are yours by right.
Such that these things become kind of necessary. So I think that's one thing. I do think we have to, in some senses, acknowledge, and that's why I think that it's unable to also participate in this promise of delivery story. Right.
Because from their vantage point, what they have experienced is something that doesn't inspire trust in the state. It also, by the way, doesn't inspire trust in political party.
So for all of the Congress reliance on apparently Hamdullah towards the fact of the matter is this culture was deeply, deeply exclusionary in all kinds of quotidian ways of stories from DUGU and even as late as the 70s of kind of his cultural experiences, the political party for Congress.
So so I think we will have to, in a sense, now demonstrate by actions. It's not just a question of abstractly saying we get the education, we give you all these needs to participate. Where do we go on reservations, is this it? I mean, I think there was I have no doubt that we need forms of affirmative action, but there were different ways of designing it.
I mean, one proposal I think I'm very attracted to is if I am and, you know, he crunched some numbers and he basically said, look.
Parents education is a good proxy predictor of whether the kids get educated or if both your parents are graduate, chances are you.
And he said if you just made that a proxy criteria for observation, it's sort of cost you would actually cover all the groups that you actually do need to cover, which is some ballots and others.
But it says liquidating a nice kind of thing.
So I think other than for Dalitz, I think it is worth opening up the debate. What kind of access that does. I think this 10 percent economic thing is, I think beside the point, to be honest, to.
Now, the case, I think, I do think is an exception in India, because it's the one community with all lines converge, right? So WBCSD can have a history of educational backwardness to use artificial parlance, but not the history of humiliation and discrimination. In fact, in some cases, they're dominant. Not all of them solved that.
Dalitz are one group where every single historical line of marginalisation, humiliation, a sort of deep cultural aversion not only was so deep, but I hate to say this even in my experience, I still think there are too many cases of it.
So mere presence is actually important.
I won't say this about the kind of innocence that any any any other group, but I think yes, for the rest, I think I think we need to think of, you know, what what are better ways of achieving these objectives. The BJP argument you made about sort of, you know, will the opportunism and the fanaticism that was always our poll tonight. That and particularly when the polity was centrist. Right. I remember a political scientist used to joke, you know, even in the early 2000s, that in India, any party that becomes a ruling party will become like the communists.
I mean, it was meant as a kind of constructive joke that you have to sort of move to the center and, you know, create a patchwork as for reasons I just mentioned.
I don't think that's necessarily the case anymore.
Be in the BJP case.
I would put the relationship between opportunism and the ideological purity slightly differently, see, in every other political party, we see the opportunism as a betrayal of our principles. Right? That's how we you know, it's a practical compromise. I think one thing we have not noticed in BJP is that in BJP, the opportunism is a ruthless device. For furthering the ideological agenda, you first consolidate power, by all means, only when you have consolidated the power that you make the next move, right?
Why, in a sense, we've been surprised over this because we typically log you see, whatever your you issue, whatever it is, you can read it two ways. You can read it saying there's an opportunist VPE that brings down governments that, you know, does horse trading, that issues electoral bonds that favor certain parts of human capital. And then there's this ideological purist. I think in their own imagination. The first is actually the means to the second.
Which is the lesson to have learned is consolidate power by all means, then strike. So the next item on that ideological agenda will come when they are in a position. Or in some ways like and that's one of the I think the macabre attractions of the BJP, you know, you and I think Mr. Modi is compromising on principles. I think his constituents actually don't see that. I think they see it as he understands that Hindus need to acquire power by any means whatsoever in order for that ideological agenda to be fulfilled.
So I think the relationship is a little bit different in some ways.
I think in this party, and it's true of ideological parties, even of the far left, historically, it's been true that because you're so sure of your the purity of your ideological objectives, it becomes easier to justify the ruthlessness of your enemies.
No, no, that's a great point. And as we see for the 2019 elections, you know, 370, the building of the temple up there getting that kind of one by one, we are already at the end of a sort of time. So I'll ask you for some final comments as we move on that, OK, we've, you know, completed seventy three years of our independence or whatever. But the fact is, it is with the hindsight bias that India seems inevitable and it wasn't so at all in the shape or perhaps in any shape.
And yet here we are. So looking forward, maybe if I ask you to look forward just as little as Fenosa, given what is happening in our democracy, given what is happening in our politics and so on, and leaving aside the unforeseen events like pandemics and so on, looking forward 10 years, what gives you hope and what gives you despair or what's your best case scenario for India and what's your work?
Well, you know, looking into the future, you feel like like you even if you turn out to be right, because you have no basis for saying what I think.
Two things. Let me return to the broader frame of the conversation we talk about.
And so this is the widely optimistic scenario.
OK, this is this is like I mean, I'm saying optimistic is not just wishful thinking, but it would go something like this. Look, there was a settlement that happened at partition. Pakistan obviously did not fare well as a result of that, and partly because the premise of that settlement was bound to produce the kind of pathologies that you saw in Pakistan. Once you have a religious state, once you believe in blasphemy laws, once you say it's an Islamic state, even if Jinnah wanted it to be a relatively liberal Islamic state, you are still benchmarking insiders and outsiders and Amobi as what you do and the whole thing falls apart.
A little bit of the dialectic is beginning to be unleashed in India as well. And in a sense, the and the BJP, we are doing the unfinished work of partnership. I mean, there's a kind of performative sort of admission that we want to be kind of like Pakistan right now.
The wildly optimistic scenario is that, look, we do have three to five, six years of serious conflict on this and the scale of violence. But I think some violence is going to be just in the nature of these things like.
But what that does is that actually concentrates our mind back on why we were doing certain things that we were in fact doing and that one of the things that South Asia will lead, I mean, I actually do strongly believe, frankly, that India and Pakistan trajectories are very closely entwined. I think we underestimate the I mean, yes, they are diverging. India's done partly better, but not as much as we'd like to think that we still haven't come to terms with, in a sense, the legacy of nineteen forty seven.
And that's a legacy that distorts both our domestic politics in Pakistan. That's the impetus for creating a particular relationship between the military and Islam.
And here now we are kind of so the optimistic is that, look, you know, we go back and rethink nineteen forty seven and I mean, I don't mean we become one country that's not going to happen. But we say that, look, the fundamental premise by which we define that identity is nineteen forty seven.
Pakistan explicitly India in a fuzzy modus vivendi. We. Is no longer, in a sense, sustainable, and it's running up against a second factor, which is important and I think going to be very significant on an optimistic side, is that while inter intra religious conflict or rather internal conflict has occupied our attention. Actually, the fault lines on freedom and oppression are within each of our communities, right? The fact of the matter is young men and women in both communities are looking for different kinds of liberation, sometimes pathologically does it right.
That sociological dynamic is also going to resolve itself at some point, right, and the advantage of the dynamic is that it actually gives people in different communities a similar language.
Right. Like the two had actually all kind of oppressed by some of the traditional structures being edited. So maybe the what has happened is that the deep freeze in which we had this conversation in nineteen forty seven is actually finally bubbling up in a pathological way. There will be some conflict. It will work itself out and we will actually realize that. You know, the subcontinent needs to be the zone of shared freedom that you and I wanted to be.
That's the only rational way of resolving these conflicts if identity is the basis for doing it. It's a precarious, fragile and free existence.
So that's the optimistic scenario that this is a I think a pessimistic one is is in a sense that which is that the scale of the violence that we experience in the interim, the scale of marginalization produces historically unprecedented levels of suffering.
And so that process is really long, drawn out. I mean, you know, the 30 Years War was a 30 years religious war, right? You could say we had a kind of Kenyan civil war in the 40s. We then sort of had a punctuated pause. Now we are kind of returning back to it. But maybe you could stretch out 15, 20 years. But I hope the first one is what happens.
Even your first one has a lot of violence embedded in it. But what to do? These are the times that we live in today. Thank you so much for sharing so, so much of your time in so many of your insights with me. It's a great privilege that you came on my show.
Thank you. So thank you so much for your patience of its kind for your listeners as well. If you enjoyed listening to this conversation, you can follow up on Twitter at bebetter one word bebetter. You can follow me on my ear. It be me. You can browse past episodes of the season, The Unseen at sea, unseen. And thank you for listening.
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